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Afghan Election Campaign Begins, As Taliban Calls For Boycott

October 24, 2009

(RFE/RL) -- Official campaigning by incumbent President Hamid Karzai and his main challenger, former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, has begun, but there are serious doubts about whether the process will resolve Afghanistan's latest political crisis.

At the same time, the Taliban has called on Afghans to boycott the election, promising to disrupt the voting.

"The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan once again urges their respected countrymen not to participate," the Taliban said in a statement sent to news agencies, repeating the group's promise to derail the election's first round last August.

The runoff was announced this week after a UN-backed fraud investigation found evidence of massive fraud.

The Independent Election Commission annulled enough of Karzai's votes to lower him below the 50 percent threshold needed for victory.

The UN said it would replace some 200 elections officials implicated in fraud during the first round.

In Washington, U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan Richard Holbrooke told reporters concerning the election that it's "reasonable to hope there will be less irregularities this time."

UN mission chief in Afghanistan Kai Eide said fraud could not be eliminated in the second round, but that he expects the level to be lower next month.

Battling Winter, Violence, Disillusionment

The runoff is seen as a chance to revive some credibility in Afghanistan's political process.

Violence in Afghanistan at its worst levels in the eight years since the U.S. invasion in 2001. The election comes as U.S. President Barack Obama is weighing whether to send thousands more troops to Afghanistan.

In August, sporadic Taliban attacks during the first round kept many away from polling stations. Reports said Taliban fighters cut off ink-stained fingers of some of those who had voted.

But there was no major violence and the Taliban wasn't able to derail the vote.

Around 200 foreign troops were killed in operations partly meant to provide security for the election. Turnout was less than 40 percent, but some believe many who risked voting in the first round have now become disillusioned about the process.

With winter closing in fast, election officials now face a logistical nightmare preparing polling stations for the runoff in remote mountainous and desert locations.


Copyright (c) 2009. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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