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A one horse race?

Presidential challenger Dr Abdullah Abdullah's decision to withdraw from Saturday's planned run-off against Hamid Karzai had been widely anticipated, but it leaves the process in a state of deep confusion.

Last modified: 1 Nov 2009 17:15
Photo by AFP

Presidential challenger Dr Abdullah Abdullah's decision to withdraw from Saturday's planned run-off against Hamid Karzai had been widely anticipated after key conditions he set for a free and fair election were not met.

But it leaves the process in a state of deep confusion.

Will there in fact now be an "election" on Saturday, even though only one candidate remains?

The Karzai camp, along with the main Afghan election body, the Independent Election Commission, say yes. The main thrust of their position is that the constitutional process that requires a second round must be followed to its conclusion.

But these are in fact uncharted constitutional waters. There is no provision in either the electoral law or the constitution itself that provides guidance where one candidate pulls out of a two horse race.

The decision would seem to rest with the IEC.

The issue, though, does not rest there. There are stirrings in the international community presence in this country, represented by the United Nations, with some officials telling Al Jazeera they consider an election in these circumstances "impractical".

It's easy to see why. A one horse race will not confer nationwide legitimacy on a Karzai victory. That in turn will complicate decisions by Nato members, chiefly the United States, to continue and even step-up their engagement in this country. Public opinion in those countries would also be appalled at the use of their troops to secure such a potentially ill-fated election.

More than that, those who endorse the election will bear a heavy responsibility for any Afghan voters hurt or killed by Taliban violence.

There is a considerable appetite for an end to this crisis, of course. In some quarters even a willingness to accept a highly imperfect solution - Hillary Clinton's quickfire response that the withdrawal of one candidate will not deligitimise the process is evidence of that.

However, it's unlikely to be in the interests either of the country or its people.

Expect a few days now of deep uncertainty. Behind the scenes, perhaps in front too, there'll be frantic efforts to repair the situation.