(RFE/RL) -- Afghanistan's Independent Election Commission (IEC) has ordered that a presidential runoff election be held on November 7 following investigations of fraud in the original August 20 vote.
"It will go to a second round on November 7. The reason was [incumbent President Hamid] Karzai's vote was 49.67 and could not reach above 50 percent," said IEC spokesman Nur Mohammad Nur.
The chairman of the IEC, Azizullah Lodin, said the commission did not want to "leave the people of Afghanistan in uncertainty" any longer.
Karzai called the election runoff a "step forward" for Afghan democracy. He will face second-place challenger Abdullah Abdullah, a former Afghan foreign minister.
"We believe that this decision of the IEC is legitimate, legal, and constitutional and that it strengthens the path toward democracy," Karzai said in remarks televised live on Afghan television.
Karzai's comments came after mounting global pressure on him to agree to the runoff. U.S. Senator John Kerry, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, had been meeting with Karzai at the presidential palace in Kabul in the hours leading up to today's announcement.
Kerry said that Karzai's runoff decision shows "great leadership." He said the new vote will be hard but that the world community is committed to assisting Afghanistan.
We believe that this decision of the IEC is legitimate, legal, and constitutional and that it strengthens the path toward democracy.
In a statement, U.S. President Barack Obama said "it is now vital that all elements of Afghan society continue to come together to advance democracy, peace, and justice. We look forward to a second round of voting, and the completion of the process to choose the president of Afghanistan."
An Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) report showed the number of votes invalidated by the UN-backed group pushed Karzai's total below the 50 percent threshold needed to avoid a runoff.
The Electoral Complaints Commission had given its report to the IEC, which is responsible for officially adjusting individual candidates' tallies and certifying the final results.
Under Afghan law, the ECC's decisions and orders are final and binding, and the IEC is required to implement them in determining the final results.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon welcomed Karzai's move but said organizing a second poll would be a "huge challenge."
"I commend President Karzai for the leadership he has displayed and for his commitment to ensuring full respect for Afghanistan's constitution and its democratic processes," Ban told reporters at UN headquarters.
Ban said the UN would do all it could to make the runoff transparent and credible.
"You can understand there's a huge challenge in conducting a second election," Ban said. "We will try to ensure that all Afghan people should be able to express their own will freely without intimidation or threat."
Observers had said Karzai would need to participate in a runoff if he wanted to be seen as a legitimate leader in the eyes of his own people and the U.S. government and its NATO allies, many of which are helping fight the country's insurgents.
Results from the August 20 poll gave Karzai a first-round victory, with 54 percent of the vote. Abdullah received 28 percent of the preliminary tally.
Karzai had in recent weeks asserted that he was the rightful winner of the August poll but pledged to "fully respect the constitutional order" in a telephone call to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
The White House had urged the Afghan government to do what's needed to assure a legitimate result.
Speaking on National Public Radio, Abdullah said a second election "would not be perfect" but would correct the fraud that he says took place during the first election.With agency reports