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Abdullah Reportedly Planning To Quit Afghan Runoff

Abdullah Abdullah (left) and Hamid Karzai

Abdullah Abdullah (left) and Hamid Karzai

(RFE/RL) -- Afghan presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah, whose charges of fraud helped spur the upcoming runoff vote in the country’s presidential election, is reportedly considering boycotting that poll when it takes place on November 7.

"The New York Times" reported on October 31 that Abdullah, the chief challenger to Afghan President Hamid Karzai, has decided to withdraw from the runoff.

Abdullah has called on his election rival President Hamid Karzai to dismiss top election officials, including the head of the Independent Election Commission Azizullah Lodin, as well as cabinet ministers and provincial governors.

Abdullah accuses Lodin of favoring Karzai, a claim rejected by the president and Lodin himself, and says the dismissals are needed to prevent electoral fraud in the runoff.

Fazel Sancharaki, a spokesman for Abdullah’s campaign said talks between the two election rivals continue and that “there is still a hope that Karzai will accept Abdullah’s proposals.”

Abdullah has given Karzai a deadline of until October 31 to meet his conditions. Karzai has so far refused to accept his rival’s demands.

“Boycotting the election has not yet been an issue in our campaign,” said Sancharaki. But he pointed out that Abdullah’s final decision on the runoff will be made “after the talks with the president are completed.”

“Mr. Karzai himself -- regardless of what he has said to the media -- has been in touch with us and he has been keeping us waiting. Today is the last day and if he doesn’t have his firm, final, and official response before the end of today, then tomorrow we would have a new position,” Sancharaki said.

Legitimacy Debate

Sancharaki said Abdullah is going to hold a “broad press conference” on November 1.

Sancharaki denied reports that Karzai and Abdullah have been discussing a possibility of a power-sharing deal during their latest negotiations.

Nasrullah Stanakzai, a professor of political science at Kabul University, told RFE/RL that according to Afghan electoral laws, a boycott by one candidate would not prevent a runoff going ahead with one remaining contender.

U.S. State Secretary Hillary Clinton said on October 31 that Abdullah’s possible boycott would not affect the legitimacy of the Afghan runoff.

“We see that happen in our own country where, for whatever combination of reasons, one of the candidates decides not to go forward. I don't think it has anything to do with the legitimacy of the election,” Clinton said.

The decision about the second round in the Afghan presidential election was taken after a UN-backed body found evidence of widespread electoral fraud during the first round on August 20.

Stanakzai said he “is not surprised” that Abdullah might consider pulling out of the poll.

“Dr. Abdullah understands that if he goes to the second round he would lose -- that is the prediction about the outcome of the runoff. The results of the first round showed that even after fraudulent ballots were annulled, Karzai still got far more votes than Abdullah did," Stanakzai said.

"Based on that experience, it is predicted that Karzai would have more votes in the second round too.”

Stanakzai also said he doesn’t believe Abdullah’s boycott would have a negative impact on Afghanistan’s stability.

“I don’t think the Afghan people would jeopardize their country’s stability and their own security because of one candidate’s decision to withdraw from the election race,” he said.

RFE/RL’s Radio Free Afghanistan contributed to this report