Tribal leaders vow to participate in Afghan vote decider

Tribal leaders and ordinary people across Afghanistan said they would cast aside dismay over the fraud that marred their presidential election to participate in a second round run-off.

US soldiers return fire on enemy positions as their platoon came under intense fire during an ambush at the village of Lanyal in the Korengal Valley, Kunar Province, eastern Afghanistan on October 20, 2009.

Afghans will go to the polls on November 7 to vote in a run-off between the two top contenders for president after fraud allegations cut the lead of President Hamid Karzai to below the 50 percent needed for victory.

Karzai, who took 49.67 percent of the vote in the first round after nearly 1.3 million ballots from 210 polling stations were discounted, will face his former foreign minister, Abdullah Abdullah, who took 30.59 percent.

Tribal elders in the troubled south of the country said they were angry that the risks taken to vote in the first round, in the midst of a vicious Taliban intimidation campaign, had been wasted.

Nevertheless, the elders in Kandahar -- traditional stronghold of the Taliban and Karzai's mainly-Pashtun powerbase -- said they would vote again to make the risks worthwhile.

"We did vote, risking rocket attacks, threats and intimidation, and now that the election is going to a second round for whatever reason, we the elders of Kandahar, have decided to vote again," Shah Aka told AFP.

"After the president's appeal to the nation and the announcement of the IEC (Independent Election Commission) we will go and vote in the run-off and will support Karzai. We will strongly back him."

Tribal elder Nor Wali Khan Shinwari added: "The run-off showed there is no fraud-free and transparent phenomenon in Afghanistan and now we see fraud even in a national process to determine the nation's fate and future."

Shinwari, from eastern Nangarhar province, said democracy was still in its infancy in the war-ravaged country and democratic values were being "played with".

"Indeed we will go and vote again but who is going to guarantee that no fraud will take place again? People did vote but it was the election commission officials who commited the fraud, not the people," he added.

Mohammad Sharif, 45, believed the run-off would strengthen new democratic practices.

"It also shows our politicians believe in democracy and are ready to accept the results of the election even if it is not the result of their choice," Sharif said.

The second-round announcement has changed the belief among many Afghans who think Western powers -- with billions of dollars and their own credibility at stake here -- will decide who takes office in Afghanistan, he said.

"The announcement of the run-off puts an end to the belief that the future president is already chosen by foreigners and the election is only a practice to deceive us.

"Now we know it is for the nation to decide who will be our president."

There have been sporadic protests in the past week from Karzai supporters across the country, calling for a boycott of the run-off and insisting their candidate won the vote.

But a Karzai campaigner in northern Kunduz province said his supporters would comply with the president's call to vote.

"Now that our own leader, our own candidate, has accepted a run-off and called on us to vote, we will indeed get out and vote and show our candidate was and is the winner," said Malim Akbar.

Mehbubullah, also from Kunduz and who, like many Afghans, has only one name, said he would vote again.

He said he hoped the poll would be fraud-free and the people's choice would determine the next leader.

Source: AFP

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