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Afghan boycott threatened

An anti-corruption campaigner who came third in Afghanistan’s election has said he may urge a boycott of a run-off next month, as the UN strives to avoid a repeat of the first round’s fraud.


The scale of the corruption during the August 20 election, most of which benefited President Hamid Karzai, has led to deep disillusionment in a country beset by a bloody Taliban insurgency.

US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the run-off on November 7 would be watched closely for fraud and foreign troops would work to protect voters from Taliban attack.

But outspoken lawmaker Ramazan Bashardost, who came a distant third in August with about 10 percent of the vote, damned the entire process as a “failure”.

“Elsewhere in the world people involved in fraud are sent to jail but here in our country they are praised,” he told AFP.

Bashardost said he would announce early next month whether he is asking his followers to back Karzai or former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah, or to boycott the new ballot.

The two contenders had already lobbied for his support, he said, as distribution got under way of ballot papers and indelible ink to polling stations.

“But mark my words, I won’t trade the vote of Afghan people or my supporters in return for a position” in government, he said. “I’ll do what is best for the people of Afghanistan.”

One analyst cast doubt on whether Bashardost, a member of Afghanistan’s minority Hazara community, had the political clout to make a difference.

“I don’t think he’s in a kingmaker position,” said Haroun Mir, of Afghanistan’s Centre for Research and Policy Studies.

“The people who voted for him were the ones who are fed up with both Karzai and Abdullah and were the ones who were not affiliated to a political party or tribal group — that’s why they voted for him.”

But a boycott call could undermine the credibility of a hastily-arranged poll that comes after weeks of political paralysis, threatening to depress August’s low turnout rate of 38 percent still further.

Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission said the vote run-up would begin in earnest on Saturday with the start of a 12-day campaign period until November 5 and the first distribution of electoral materials nationwide.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon has said the poll faces huge challenges and has ordered the replacement of around 200 monitors who oversaw the first round.

UN spokesman Dan McNorton said some polling stations where major ballot-stuffing was detected and where it is not possible for Afghan security forces to be present to ensure safe voting were unlikely to reopen.

Abdullah’s camp is also sceptical about the composition of the electoral commission, a nominally independent body seen by many as pro-Karzai.

“If the composition of the leadership of the commission is not changed, no doubt we will still have the crisis of fraud and illegal rule in the country,” said a pro-Abdullah political party, the New Way League.

Organisers face a race against time to stage the second round with the onset of winter, as US President Barack Obama considers whether to deploy thousands more troops into the fray and NATO defence ministers discuss strategy changes.

The issue heightened political tension in Washington, with the White House slamming Dick Cheney Thursday, accusing him of years of neglect of Afghanistan, after the ex-vice president said Obama was “dithering” over the decision.

Asked about security problems surrounding the run-off, Gates said almost all countries that increased troop levels before the August polls had kept those additional forces in Afghanistan.

“Everybody has an interest in making sure that there are as few problems with this run-off election as possible in terms of providing legitimacy for the winning candidate,” he said.

NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen urged member nations and partners to step up efforts to build Afghan security forces, warning that failure would destabilise the region and ultimately export insecurity to Europe.

“Leaving Afghanistan behind would once again turn the country into a training ground for Al-Qaeda,” he said.

NATO defence ministers were to discuss Friday the new US and NATO counter-insurgency strategy to protect civilians rather than hunt militant fighters.

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