Karzai Wins Presidency as Afghan Runoff Is Cancelled

Several weeks and more than $100 million later, Afghanistan's presidential election ended with a whimper today.

The head of Afghanistan's election commission officially cancelled Saturday's upcoming runoff election, declaring Hamid Karzai the winner.

"We declare Mr. Hamid Karzai, who got the majority vote in the first round and is the only candidate for the second round, the elected president of Afghanistan," said Azizullah Ludin, chairman of the Independent Election Commission.

Listing the commission's reasons, Ludin said it wanted to save Afghans the costs and the security risks of a second round.

President Barack Obama called Karzai today to congratulate him on his second-term victory and to urge a new chapter of better governance after the tumultuous and fraud-ridden election.

"Although the process was messy, I'm pleased to say that the final outcome was determined in accordance with Afghan law," Obama told reporters in the Oval Office.

The announcement by the Afghan election commission came one day after Karzai's challenger, Abdullah Abdullah, withdrew from the race in protest.

"I think it would have been good for Afghanistan to have an election with a relative credible process in place," Abdullah told ABC News today. "That would have been in the best interest of Afghanistan. I was sure this would not happen."

The decision has damaged the Afghan people's trust in the election process, he said.

Abdullah, the former Afghan foreign minister, said Sunday that a second vote would not be free or fair. His withdrawal forced election officials to cancel the runoff.

Abdullah had been urging Karzai to replace the head of the country's election commission, and close hundreds of so-called ghost polling stations that had produced nearly 1 million fake votes, in an attempt to improve the credibility of a second vote. Karzai refused, after which Abdullah withdrew.

The announcement brings to a close a two-and-a-half month ordeal wrought with fraud, back-room negotiations and worries that the Afghan government might never regain credibility.

The U.S. embassy in Kabul issued a statement affirming the election commission's decision, saying it followed "its mandate under Afghan law.

"We congratulate President Karzai on his victory in this historic election and look forward to working with him, his new administration, the Afghan people and our partners in the international community to support Afghanistan's progress towards institutional reforms, security and prosperity."

Karzai Congratulated by World Leaders

In a congratulatory letter to Karzai, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari called the conclusion of Afghanistan's election a "moment of far-reaching significance and import."

The British government and the United Nations also issued statements of congratulations.

U.S. State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said the United States is "prepared to work with this partner, who was elected according to Afghan laws in an election that was conducted by Afghan institutions."

In a statement Sunday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton acknowledged Abdullah's decision to withdraw from the race, saying he ran a "dignified and constructive campaign."

She also said the United States will "support the next president and the people of Afghanistan, who seek and deserve a better future."

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