On November 1, Abdullah Abdullah, the opposition candidate in the runoff round of the Afghan presidential election scheduled for November 7, withdrew his candidature. The Independent Election Commission (IEC) then declared the incumbent president, Hamid Karzai, the winner, though the constitutional validity of cancelling the runoff, even with only one candidate standing, is not clear. Dr. Abdullah apparently plans a Supreme Court challenge, but there is little appetite for a fresh poll, and a challenge will probably fail. The runoff was needed because the original election, held on August 20, was so fraudulent that the U.N.-supported Election Complaint Commission (ECC) reduced Mr. Karzai’s share of the vote from 54 per cent to 48.6 per cent, leaving him without an absolute majority. Dr. Abdullah’s demand for changes in the personnel of the IEC, which ran the election, was entirely reasonable, as the Karzai-appointed IEC was itself responsible for much of the fraud. The United States and the United Kingdom, which led the NATO invasion of Afghanistan in November 2001, are frantically trying to spin the legitimacy of Mr. Karzai’s new presidency. The election, however, has been widely called a fiasco and a shocking failure by the west to create a credible democracy in Afghanistan.

So Afghanistan now has a president of dubious legitimacy and an unquestionably corrupt administration; when making his inaugural speech, Mr. Karzai was flanked by two vice-presidents who are respectively said to be a drug baron and a war criminal. It is also unclear if the government will be an interim one lasting until another election can be held in the spring. Interim status would undermine Mr. Karzai’s standing yet further; in any case the perception throughout Afghanistan is that the new government is a NATO creation and cannot survive without NATO. Even if, under western pressure, Mr. Karzai gives Dr. Abdullah a post in government, the Afghan state could lose control over northern areas, where Dr. Abdullah’s support is concentrated. It is now even harder for the U.S. to gain support among ordinary Afghans for the 40,000 more troops President Obama plans to send to Afghanistan, and NATO has totally lost its way. It is a tragedy for the Afghan people that Mr. Karzai would probably have won without rigging the election. The Taliban could make huge political gains from the present shambles. There is an obvious parallel with the U.S.-rigged election which put Nguyen Van Thieu into power in South Vietnam in 1967, and there is a bitter contrast with the fate of the Palestinians, who are suffering Israel’s brutal displeasure for having chosen Hamas in a free and fair election.

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