“I will not participate in the election,” Dr Abdullah told supporters. (photo, from aljazeera.net)
Hamid Karzai’s rival announced his withdrawal from the second round of the Afghan presidential election, arguing that his demands for ensuring a fraud-free election had not been met.
Karzai had rejected Dr Abdullah’s demand that election officials who presided over the first round should be dismissed.
Although the withdrawal was “very unfortunate”, according to Waheed Omar, the president Karzai’s spokesman, the election should go ahead as planned.
“The process has to complete itself, the people of Afghanistan have to be given the right to vote.”
A pull-out would not invalidate the vote’s legitimacy, said the US earlier.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told reporters in the United Arab Emirates: “We see that happen in our own country where, for whatever combination of reasons, one of the candidates decides not to go forward.”
But according to BBC’s Andrew North, in Kabul, Abdullah Abdullah’s withdrawal means this is uncharted territory, and it is unclear what will happen next.
When asked by reporters if he was calling for his supporters to boycott the vote planned for next Saturday, Dr Abdullah said: “I have not made that call”.
BBC’s correspondent says that there has been much speculation that there could be some kind of deal which would possibly see the emergence of a national unity government.
Even though it’s far from a done deal, talks are being held behind the scenes towards such a formation.
Yet Dr Abdullah said his decision had not been made “in exchange for anything from anybody, but only and purely in the interests of the people of Afghanistan and to give the people of Afghanistan a chance to move on.”
Allegations of fraud
The international community is very reluctant for the run-off to take place, wishing for the legal institutions of Afghanistan to come up with measures to bring the electoral process to an end.
A statement from the Afghan Election Commission is also expected.
August’s first round of voting was marred by widespread allegations of fraud after hundreds of thousands of votes were discounted.
Karzai’s share of the vote dropped to 49,67%, less than the crucial 50% plus one vote threshold needed to avoid second round, after an investigation by the UN-backed Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC).
In the end, Dr Abdullah was adjudged to have won about 31% of valid votes cast.
On Sunday, when he gave his decision to pull out of the race to be Afghan leader, emotion was clearly visible in Dr Abdullah’s face.
He announced his decision to his supporters at a meeting in a big tent in Kabul, where Afghanistan’s first post-Taliban government was agreed eight years ago.
Dr Abdullah is a Tajik-Pashtun former eye surgeon. He served as foreign minister in the short-lived government headed by the Northern Alliance, and continued as “foreign minister in exile” throughout the years of Taliban rule, which ended in 2001.
After the fall of the Taliban in 2001, he continued in the role in the government formed by president Karzai. He left it five years later.