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.

VIDEO: Karzai Wins Presidency as Afghan Runoff Is CancelledPlay

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.

VIDEO:Abdullah Drops Out; Karzai to Run Unopposed Play

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."

VIDEO: ABCs Jim Sciutto gets a taste of daily life on the army base in Afghanistan.Play

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

The cancellation of next weekend's runoff will be a huge relief to election officials, who were scrambling to hold the vote before the onset of Afghanistan's harsh winter, which was likely to close roads in the north and prevent voters from casting ballots.

Military officials also worried about security, days after a Taliban spokesman had threatened violence against anyone who took part.

Resolution of the election also has implications for U.S. strategy in the region. The Obama administration has said a credible Afghan partner is an essential element to U.S. success in Afghanistan.

VIDEO: More Turmoil in AfghanistanPlay

Abdullah's withdrawal from the runoff election will not further complicate U.S. strategy in the region, senior White House advisor Valerie Jarrett told ABC News' George Stephanopoulos Sunday.

"It's up to the Afghan people and their authorities to decide how to proceed going forward," she said. "We watched the election very carefully. And we're going to work with the leader of the Afghan government and, hopefully, that's going to improve the state of conditions for the people in Afghanistan, and also help us as we try to bring this war to a close."

Despite the cancelled runoff, Jarrett said, the president's long-awaited decision on Afghanistan could still slip to late November.

VIDEO: Secy. Clinton on Afghanistan and Pakistan Play

"The president will make a decision when he is confident he has all the facts he needs," she said on "This Week."

In the meantime, pressure on the president to decide whether to send more U.S. troops to the region is mounting.

Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., member of the Foreign Relations Committee, issued a statement today saying the cancelled runoff is evidence that more troops in Afghanistan will be counterproductive.

"Increasing our military footprint will exacerbate the perception among Afghans that the U.S. intends to occupy their country in support of a government many see as illegitimate," Feingold said.

"This could further destabilize the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan and make it more difficult to isolate and target al Qaeda globally, which is our top national security priority."

ABC News' Jake Tapper, Kirit Radia and Z. Byron Wolf contributed to this report.