October 14, 2009 / 10:58 AM / 10 years ago

Afghan election run-off likely in Nov - ex diplomat

KABUL (Reuters) - Afghan leader Hamid Karzai is likely to face a second round run-off in early November in the country’s disputed presidential election, a former diplomat close to the U.S. regional envoy said on Wednesday.

An Afghan man rides on his bicycle past a poster of President Hamid Karzai in Kabul in this September 12, 2009 file photo. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani/Files

Almost two months after polling day, the U.N.-backed election watchdog is still sifting through piles of allegedly suspicious ballots to determine if Karzai is the outright winner or must face a second vote against his runner-up.

Peter Galbraith, a senior U.S. diplomat who was fired last month from his U.N. position in Afghanistan in a row over election fraud, said the second round looked inevitable.

“I expect that by the end of this week the Election Complaints Commission will have announced its review,” Galbraith, known to be close to the U.S. envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke, told the BBC’s Hard Talk programme.

“That result is likely to bring Karzai below 50 percent. Hopefully the run-off can be held sometime before the first week of November which is still possible in terms of weather.”

Karzai, who got 54.6 percent of the vote in the first round, has acknowledged that some fraud had taken place but not on a big enough scale to require a second round. He has blamed some Western media and officials for exaggerating the extent of fraud.

He will be however be forced into a run-off against ex-foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah if a fraud investigation cuts his share of the vote below 50 percent.

“I think if you could have an honest second round then he (Karzai) might be accepted by many but not all Afghans as the man who won the election,” Galbraith said.

“The second issue is whether another five years of Karzai will somehow be different from the last seven years of Karzai which is of course a government that was characterised by inefficiency, ineffectiveness and corruption.”

Galbraith has chronicled what he has described as U.N. efforts to ignore fraud allegations in Afghanistan for fear of raising tensions in the volatile country.

Kai Eide, head of the U.N. mission in Afghanistan, has denied accusations that he had helped cover up election fraud, and said he still believed a result could be reached that Afghans would find credible.

(Writing by Maria Golovnina; Editing by Jeremy Laurence)

For more Reuters coverage of Afghanistan and Pakistan, see: here

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