Gordon Brown has joined Barack Obama in welcoming President Hamid Karzai’s “statesmanlike” agreement to a second ballot run-off in Afghanistan’s disputed presidential election.
The Afghan leader bowed to international pressure after a ruling by the UN’s Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) that a third of his votes from the first round in August were invalid, leaving him without the 50% needed for outright victory.
Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission (IEC) said the run-off with Abdullah Abdullah, who finished second in the first round ballot, would be held on November 7.
Mr Brown commended Mr Karzai’s acceptance of the constitutional process and promised Britain’s full support for the final round of voting.
“It is vital that the new Afghan government has legitimacy in the eyes of its people,” he said.
“I have consistently said that the election must be allowed to run its course and that all concerned should respect the process.
“There is no doubt that there have been flaws and we will need to apply the lessons of this process.”
Mr Obama described Mr Karzai’s announcement as an “important step forward in ensuring a credible process for the Afghan people” which would result in a “government that reflects their will”. The US President said in a statement: “While this election could have remained unresolved to the detriment of the country, President Karzai’s constructive actions established an important precedent for Afghanistan’s new democracy.”
Mr Brown was reported to have been among a number of senior international figures — along with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon — to have put pressure on Mr Karzai to accept the ECC findings after suggestions that he could try to ignore them.
No 10 said the Prime Minister had spoken to Mr Karzai four times in recent days, as well as speaking to Dr Abdullah.
The behind-the-scenes diplomatic manoeuvring was reflected in the presence alongside Mr Karzai at his press conference of US Senator John Kerry, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and the head of the UN in Afghanistan, Kai Eide.
The Afghan president said he hoped the second round ballot — in which he is clear favourite — would finally put an end to the disputes over the legitimacy of the voting process.
“I hope that the international community and the Afghan government and all others concerned will take every possible measure to provide security to the people so that when they vote that vote is not called a fraud,” he said.
The IEC said that it had opted for a November 7 vote despite “some reservations”, including the onset of the harsh Afghan winter which leaves many roads and mountain passes impassable.
A run-off could still be avoided if a power-sharing deal could be hammered out between Mr Karzai and Dr Abdullah but so far they have shown little interest in this.