WASHINGTON — Obama administration officials said they expect President Hamid Karzai to announce today that he will accept a runoff in Afghanistan's disputed election, following the invalidation of more than a million of his votes by the commission investigating fraud in the Aug. 20 race.
The findings by the U.N.-led International Complaints Commission, released Monday after two months of political turmoil, stripped Karzai of nearly a third of his votes, bringing him below the halfway point and triggering a constitutionally mandated second round of voting between him and the runner-up, former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah.
Senior administration officials, while palpably relieved at what they said had been an apparent breakthrough in tense negotiations with Karzai, remained reluctant to state unequivocally that he had agreed to a runoff. "There are any number of cliches you could choose from, but we'll wait until the chickens are hatched," said one official who spoke to the Washington Post condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation.
Karzai's acceptance, after weeks of resistance, would allow the administration to proceed with the high-level review of its faltering Afghanistan war strategy, a process that has been hamstrung by the delay in determining who its Afghan government partner will be. The White House has been under increasing congressional and public pressure to make a decision on whether to send tens of thousands more U.S. troops to Afghanistan, as requested by the top American commander there.
Even as the results of the fraud investigation began to leak last week, Karzai continued to insist he won legitimately, based on a preliminary tally announced in September by a government-allied electoral commission. Over the last several days, he has come under intense international pressure to agree to a runoff.
On Monday, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told reporters, "We're looking to hear from President Karzai tomorrow, Kabul time. I am very hopeful that we will see a resolution in line with the constitutional order. But I don't want to preempt in any way President Karzai's statement."
The Afghan constitution requires a runoff if no candidate reaches 50 percent plus one vote.