Challenger Abdullah drops out of runoff vote

President Hamid Karzai’s challenger withdrew Sunday from next weekend’s runoff election, effectively handing the incumbent a victory but raising doubts about the credibility of the government at a time when the U.S. is seeking an effective partner in the war against the Taliban.

KABUL, Afghanistan — President Hamid Karzai’s challenger withdrew Sunday from next weekend’s runoff election, effectively handing the incumbent a victory but raising doubts about the credibility of the government at a time when the U.S. is seeking an effective partner in the war against the Taliban.

Former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah said he made his decision after Karzai turned down his demands for changes to the Independent Election Commission and other measures that he said would prevent massive fraud, which marred the first round of balloting on Aug. 20.

Abdullah stopped short of calling for an electoral boycott and urged his followers “not to go to the streets, not to demonstrate.”

Azizullah Lodin, the head of the Karzai-appointed commission, said he would have to confer with constitutional lawyers before deciding later Sunday whether the runoff would proceed without Abdullah.

Kai Eide, the top UN official in Afghanistan, said in a statement that the next step is to “bring this electoral process to a conclusion in a legal and timely manner.”

The statement did not address whether the runoff should go forward, though UN spokesman Aleem Siddique said it looked impractical.

“It’s difficult to see how you can have a runoff with only one candidate,” Siddique said.

Canada’s ambassador to Afghanistan called on both candidates to respect the electoral process.

“We have consistently stated that all parties must respect the process to enable Afghans to exercise their democratic rights,” William Crosbie said in a statement to The Canadian Press Sunday.

A clouded electoral picture further complicates the Obama administration’s efforts to decide whether to send tens of thousands more troops to Afghanistan to battle the Taliban and its al-Qaida allies.

The White House has been waiting for a new government in Kabul to announce a decision, but the war has intensified in the meantime. October was the deadliest month of the war for U.S. forces with at least 57 American deaths.

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