Afghan President Hamid Karzai might face a runoff in the country’s disputed presidential election when a UN-backed panel releases its findings on October 18 from its probe into fraud in the August 20 vote.
The fraud investigation conducted by the Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) could reduce Karzai’s vote count to below the 50 percent required to avoid a second round against his nearest rival in the election, Abdullah Abdullah.
Several foreign officials, including French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner and U.S. Senator John Kerry, visited Kabul this weekend to urge the Afghan political rivals to resolve the deepening election crisis, which threatens to undermine international efforts to stabilize Afghanistan.
After separate meetings with Karzai and Abdullah in Kabul, Kouchner told reporters on October 18 that the two need to work together to find ways to resolve the election dispute.
“They talked -- both of them -- about the necessity of working together, I don't know if it will be a government or a group process, I don't know, but yes, working together after such election in favor of the development in Afghanistan, this is absolutely necessary,” Kouchner said.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have spoken on the telephone with the two main candidates in recent days to discuss concerns over the election crisis.
Under Afghanistan’s laws, the ECC will report its probe results to the Independent Election Commission (IEC), which adjusts the vote count and announces the final election results.
According to the disputed preliminary results, Karzai leads with over 54 percent of the vote, while his nearest rival Abdullah has 28 percent.
If the ECC announces that the fraud’s impact was insufficient to overturn these results, Karzai will be declared winner.
However, if it brings Karzai’s vote below 50 percent, the runoff against Abdullah will be necessary.
Karzai has made it clear he would prefer not to have a runoff, and has threatened to delay or block a second round.
Diplomats and officials do not rule out a possibility of a power-sharing government, and Abdullah has hinted he might be open for discussions.
If the IEC decides in favor of the second round, the voting would take place within two weeks.
Any delay beyond that would further deepen the crisis and leave the country in a political limbo for months, because winter weather would block roads and passes in the mountainous country.
Compiled from agency reports. RFE/RL’s Radio Free Afghanistan also contributed to this report.