KABUL, (Reuters) – Afghanistan’s Hamid Karzai said he wants a better and cleaner presidential election run-off in November to bring stability at a time when Taliban violence is at its worst in eight years of war.
Karzai agreed to face his main rival, Abdullah Abdullah, in a Nov. 7 run-off after a U.N.-led fraud inquiry annulled enough of his votes from the first round in August to trigger a rematch.
The Afghan leader has played down fraud allegations but bowed to international pressure and ordered a run-off as a way to bolster the election’s credibility at a time when Washington is weighing whether to send more troops to Afghanistan.
In a statement late on Thursday, Karzai said he accepted the run-off for the sake of stability.
“I accepted the second round in the interests of the nation, to strengthen stability and prospects for democracy in Afghanistan,” the presidential palace quoted him as saying. “Now that we are holding the second round in two weeks, I want it to be better than the first round.”
Concerns about security and a repeat of the fraud that tainted the first round have cast a shadow as officials in Afghanistan kicked off hasty preparations for the vote.
A top election official has already warned that Afghan and international forces will hardly have enough time to provide full security ahead of the vote.
The poll also poses a logistical challenge in the mountainous nation, many parts of which will soon become inaccessible with the rapid onset of the bitter Afghan winter.
Election officials have to rely on U.N. planes, trucks and donkeys to deliver ballots to far-flung locations. Official campaigning is expected to kick off at noon on Saturday.
To prevent a repeat of fraud, many district election officials would be replaced, officials said.
The U.N. mission in Kabul has said polling stations in places of low first-round turnout due to bad security and where a lot of fraud took place in August would not open, and voters would be encouraged to cast their ballots in other nearby locations.
Karzai is widely expected to win the second round largely due to his strong support base among fellow Pashtuns — Afghanistan’s largest ethnic group. He remains popular with many Afghans who see him as an experienced leader.
Former foreign minister Abdullah, on the other hand, is half Tajik and half Pashtun and is sometimes seen as a unifying candidate who can cross divisive ethnic lines in Afghanistan.