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Guardian: Karzai was hellbent on victory. Afghans will pay the price

Author: Peter Galbraith
November 2, 2009

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Peter Galbraith reflects on the declaration of Karzai's victory as a "farce and failure," warns that Afghanistan has lost its legitimacy in the West, and grimly questions the purpose now of sending more troops.

Afghanistan's presidential election is over, and it was a fiasco. The decision by the Independent Election Commission (IEC) to cancel the second round and declare the incumbent, Hamid Karzai, the victor concludes a process that undermined Afghanistan's nascent democracy. In the US and Europe, the fraud-tainted elections halted the momentum for President Obama's new Afghanistan strategy and undercut support for sending more troops.

The election was effectively over on Sunday when Karzai's remaining rival, former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah, announced he would not run. Abdullah Abdullah did not withdraw because he calculated he could not win, as some have uncharitably implied, but because he knew the election would not be honest. Indeed, in an honest election, he might have had a chance.

In the first round on 20 August, more than 1m fraudulent votes were recorded for Karzai, taking his total to 54% – above the 50% threshold needed to avoid a runoff. Two factors made this level of fraud possible: ghost polling centres and corrupt election commission staff. Under the guise of maximising participation, the pro-Karzai IEC located at least 1,500 polling centres in places either controlled by the Taliban or so insecure that no one from the government side could go there. These centres never actually existed, but since the locations were inaccessible to candidate agents, observers and voters, it was easy for corrupt election officials to say they were open and to record hundreds of thousands of votes from them.

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