Fri, Apr 11, 2014 - Page 6 News List

Frontrunner in Afghan election rules out coalition

DOUBLE COMBO:Saturday’s historic election could leave two former foreign ministers joining forces in the war-scarred nation, but a result is weeks away

Reuters, KABUL

A frontrunner in the race to succeed Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Wednesday voiced the possibility of teaming up with a rival, but ruled out forming a coalition government in order to avoid a second-round runoff.

Afghanistan voted in a landmark presidential election last weekend which, if successful, will usher in the first democratic handover of power in the country’s history, as Karzai prepares to step down after more than 12 years in office.

Preliminary tallies put former Afghan foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah in the lead in parts of the capital, Kabul. However, it could be weeks before a countrywide winner emerges from the field of eight candidates, because Afghanistan’s rugged terrain and weak infrastructure make tallying all the ballots difficult.

Speaking to reporters at his home on Wednesday, Abdullah said he met his rival, former Afghan foreign minister Zalmai Rassoul, shortly after Saturday’s election to discuss possibilities.

“We had been in the same government in the old days, we have been friends for many years. So that is the personal part of it. The rest of it depends on the common understanding of certain subjects and certain policies,” Abdullah said.

If none of the candidates gets more than 50 percent, a runoff will have to be held — at the earliest in late May — considerably prolonging the wait for a winner to be declared.

Western powers, who are withdrawing most of their forces from Afghanistan this year, are watching the process intently after a messy presidential election in 2009 resulted in allegations of mass fraud and ballot-stuffing.

Foreign donors, who are hesitant about bankrolling the Afghan government after the bulk of NATO troops leaves, will also closely scrutinize the composition of the country’s future government to decide whether they can work with the new team.

The protracted nature of the vote-counting process, which requires ferrying ballot boxes from remote parts of Afghanistan by donkey or mule, has sparked speculation that some of the candidates might opt for a closed-door deal to avoid a runoff.

Abdullah, who failed in his presidential bid in 2009 and said that the poll was marred by widespread stuffing of ballot boxes, deployed thousands of observers across the nation to monitor the election this time around.

However, he declined to say whether he had scored above 50 percent based on their observations.

“From their observations on the ground and also from the tallying that we have been doing on the basis of the results sheets that we have received through our observers and monitors from all around the country, it sounds good for us,” he said.

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