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An Afghan youth rides his bike, passing by an election billboard that asks the people to vote, in Kabul, Afghanistan on Monday, Oct. 19, 2009. (Musadeq Sadeq)
An Afghan youth rides his bike, passing by an election billboard that asks the people to vote, in Kabul, Afghanistan on Monday, Oct. 19, 2009. (Musadeq Sadeq)

Harper warns Karzai to accept recount Add to ...

Prime Minister Stephen Harper warned Afghan President Harmid Karzai yesterday that he must respect his country's electoral laws, after a United Nations-sponsored probe into the presidential election threw out so many fraudulent votes that a new vote now appears inevitable.

"The Prime Minister urged President Karzai to maintain an unqualified commitment to the constitutional democratic process in Afghanistan," the Prime Minister's Office said in a statement issued Monday.

A senior official said that Mr. Harper had firmly advised Mr. Karzai that, if the Afghan President attempted to govern without a legal mandate, as some of his supporters are urging, he would face dire problems, not just with Canada, but with the entire international community.

Mr. Karzai is expected to announce his intentions Tuesday. That decision comes at a fulcrum of tension, with evidence that Afghan election was rigged now overwhelming, with Pakistani troops battling fundamentalist militants in South Waziristan, and with U.S. President Barack Obama rethinking the depth and nature of America's commitment to the poor and troubled nation it entered eight years ago.

"There is need for rapid decisions," Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the Secretary-General of NATO said in Brussels Monday. But "it's important to stress that there is a strong need for the international community to have a credible and accountable government in Kabul to deal with."

Mr. Karzai's attempts to avoid a second presidential election were weakened considerably Monday after a long-awaited report into vote-rigging rejected hundreds of thousands of ballots marked in his favour.

Although he has resisted calls from the international community to abide by his country's constitution and hold a second round of elections, signs Monday suggested he now plans to be more co-operative.

A United Nations spokeswoman said Monday that Mr. Karzai pledged in telephone talks UN chief Ban Ki-moon to "fully respect the constitutional order."

And U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the Afghan president intends to announce Tuesday how he will "set the stage" for resolving the country's postelection political crisis.

That followed statements by Rahm Emanuel, the White House chief of staff, who said the U.S. administration could not make a decision about a troop surge in Afghanistan without a "true partner" running the Afghan government.

It had been rumoured since late last week that the repeatedly delayed report by the Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC), the UN-backed body that examined the amount of wrongdoing in the August election, would discount enough votes to drop Mr. Karzai below the 50-per-cent level.

The ECC, headed by Canadian Grant Kippen, submitted its findings to the Independent Election Commission (IEC) Monday.

Afghan law dictates that the IEC, and not the ECC, must announce the result of the investigation. So the complaints commission did not spell out the number of votes that must be discarded to reflect the extent of the vote-rigging that was uncovered.

Instead, the ECC submitted a list of percentages that the IEC must now discount from the votes obtained by each candidate to determine whether Mr. Karzai can hang onto his job without a run-off.

An independent analysis of the numbers conducted by an election monitoring group called Democracy International showed Mr. Karzai will fall from the 54.6 per cent to 48.3 per cent when the ECC's formula is applied. The group's calculations indicate that nearly a million of Mr. Karzai's votes will have to be thrown out.

The IEC, which is widely accused of being biased in favour of Mr. Karzai, did not make a formal statement Monday. But a spokesman told a small group of Afghan reporters that it would not accept the ECC's findings of fraud without direct proof.

In fact, the two groups have been wrangling for several days over the methodology applied by the complaints commission.

Mr. Kippen said in an interview Monday night with The Globe and Mail that there were no surprises in the formula. "It's what we said we were going to do," he said.

With the ECC report in hand, there are only a couple of ways that Independent Election Commission can proceed. And none of them would seem to work in Mr. Karzai's favour.

The IEC could continue to call into question the work done by the ECC. But the ECC has answered every query put to it over the past three days regarding methodology, officials said, and process is fully documented on its website.

The IEC could publicly also accept or reject the ECC's report. If the report is accepted, as is required under law, then there will be another election. If is it rejected, Mr. Karzai will remain in power without a mandate. And that will set him on course for a major, and potentially nasty, clash with the international community. According to Afghan law, there must be a run-off election within two weeks if there is no clear winner in the battle for president.

That would leave Mr. Kazai in a contest with Abdullah Abdullah, the former foreign minister who placed second with 27.8 per cent. Other candidates who did not fare as well have also talked about getting themselves on the ballot but the rules dictate a two-man fight.

Although there is no legal way to avoid the second election if no candidate obtains 50 per cent of the vote, there has been much talk that Mr. Abdullah and Mr. Karzai would find a way to form a joint government to stave off another vote.

But Sayyid Agha Hussai Fazel Sanacharaki, a spokesman for Mr. Abdullah, told The Globe Monday night that such power sharing would not be possible. According to the percentage of votes obtained by Mr. Karzai, "we need to do an election again," said Mr. Sanacharaki.

Mr. Karzai does not agree. Deen Mohammed, his spokesman, said there was no clear result that could be derived from the information the ECC has made public. "We have seen nothing that says Mr. Karzai got less than 50 per cent of the vote," said Mr. Mohammed, who emphasized that it is the IEC and not the ECC that must release the final result.

Mr. Karzai does not want a coalition, said Mr. Mohammed, but he is trying to form a broad government that will represent all political views including those of Mr. Abdullah. "If people have knowledge,' said Mr. Mohammed, they will be asked.

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