Abdullah Abdullah announced on Sunday that he would not participate in Afghanistan’s runoff election next week, claiming it would result in widespread fraud.
To cheers from thousands of supporters in Kabul, Abdullah said he had not taken lightly his decision, which is likely to prolong the political crisis in the country.
“We will not take part, because of the wrongdoing of the Independent Election Commission and the abuse of power by the government,” Abdullah told his supporters.
His running mate, Homayoun Shah Assefy, said: “We are no longer a candidate and we wish Karzai luck.”
Abdullah stopped short of calling for a boycott — a decision that will please western diplomats keen to avoid civil unrest. But the prolonged political uncertainty will further complicate Barack Obama’s deliberations over whether to send up to 40,000 more troops into Afghanistan.
The White House has been waiting for a new government in Kabul before announcing its decision. On Saturday, Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, said the legitimacy of the election would not be affected if Abdullah withdrew.
“I don’t think it has anything to do with the legitimacy of the election,” she said. “It’s a personal choice which may or may not be made.”
Nadjib Yussufi, a senior campaign official, said any attempt to anoint Hamid Karzai as president without a second vote would lack credibility. He said that if Karzai had “political wisdom” he would call a traditional meeting of all the country’s tribal leaders and power brokers to decide a way forward.
Abdullah’s announcement came after the failure of last-minute attempts to head off another crisis in the presidential election saga. Kai Eide, the senior United Nations official in Afghanistan, led a series of talks with Karzai to lay the ground for a power-sharing deal in which Abdullah would concede defeat, making a second round unnecessary.
In return, the former foreign minister had asked for a number of changes to the Afghan election body, including the sacking of its lead commissioner. But almost all of Abdullah’s demands were rejected, leaving him no choice but to drop out, his supporters say.
“He knows that there is no point in taking part in an election where the odds are illegally stacked against him,” said one senior member of Abdullah’s camp on Saturday night.
Many western observers agreed with some of Abdullah’s demands, including a call for the replacement of Independent Election Commission (IEC) chairman, Azizullah Ludin, who has been heavily criticised for appearing to be biased in favour of Karzai.
Eide organised a meeting between Karzai and Abdullah last week to discuss a solution, including plans for a power-sharing deal. But an official with knowledge of the conversation said Karzai was unwilling to compromise.
Abdullah won just over 30 per cent in the first round of the presidential election and would have had a mountain to climb if he were to have overhauled Karzai in the runoff.