The United States, which is attempting to teach democracy in Afghanistan is apparently intent on giving a very interesting lesson in that form of government. Following the withdrawal of the opposition candidate, it seems the US wants to simply "elect" the incumbent Karzai, with no run off election:
On Saturday the US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, said a decision by Abdullah to pull out would not affect the vote's legitimacy.
A little detail like having only one candidate should not effect the legitimacy, claims Clinton. She is not alone:
Waheed Omar, Karzai's campaign spokesman, said the "election has to go ahead and the people of Afghanistan have to be given the right to vote".His view was echoed by the IEC chairman, Azizullah Ludin, who said "there was no alternative under the law" to a second round.
The right to vote? The right to choose between Karzai and Karzai? Will he campaign against himself? That should be interesting to watch.
Afghanistan's western backers are pushing for a rapid coronation of Hamid Karzai as president without going through with a second round of voting after the Afghan president's closest rival pulled out of the race today.
Abdullah Abdullah withdrew from the runoff vote after the rejection of nearly all of his demands for changes to the Independent Election Commission (IEC) and the suspension of government ministers, which he said would have reduced the risk of massive fraud in the next round of voting. The announcement threw the election into disarray, with some analysts labelling the fiasco "a shocking failure" of efforts by the west and other international communities to build a democracy in Afghanistan. A legitimate Afghan leader is seen as essential to western war aims, and has prevented Barack Obama from being able to make a decision on whether to send up to 40,000 more US troops to Afghanistan.
To cheers and applause, an emotional Dr Abdullah told thousands of his supporters gathered in an enormous tent in Kabul that he had no choice but to bow out "because of the action taken by this government and the action taken by the Independent Election Commission".
But despite Abdullah's announcement both Karzai's campaign and the IEC said the runoff vote should go ahead because there was no other legal method for choosing the president.
The former foreign minister's supporters know that Karzai now faces two unenviable choices. He could either go ahead and win a mandate based on a second round which is likely to attract even fewer participants than the first vote in August. Or he could be simply be appointed as leader without the 50% of votes the constitution says the president requires to be elected. "Whatever he does he will not be legitimate," said Ahmed Wali Massoud, a leading political figure and a senior member of Abdullah's campaign team.
Nick Horne, a former UN political officer who resigned over the organisation's handling of the elections, said a second round without Abdullah would give Karzai an "exceptionally weak mandate" with which to counter the Taliban insurgency.
Haroun Mir, head of the Centre for Research and Policy Studies in Kabul, said that the Afghan state could even risk losing control over the northern areas where Abdullah's supporters could refuse to recognise the authority of Karzai. But Waheed Omar, Karzai's campaign spokesman, said the "election has to go ahead and the people of Afghanistan have to be given the right to vote".
His view was echoed by the IEC chairman, Azizullah Ludin, who said "there was no alternative under the law" to a second round.
But a UN spokesman said: "It's difficult to see how you can have a runoff with only one candidate."
Senior diplomats privately say they do not want to risk their troops' lives in order to protect another election. They say there is enough ambiguity in Afghanistan's constitution that would allow the country's Supreme Court to rule that a second round is not necessary and that Karzai should be elected on the basis that he received the highest number of votes in the first.
Many Afghan and western lawyers strongly disagree, however, saying that the Supreme Court does not have the power to interpret the constitution to the degree necessary.
On Saturday the US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, said a decision by Abdullah to pull out would not affect the vote's legitimacy. But another senior Abdullah campaign member, Nadjib Yussufi, said that if Karzai had any "political wisdom" he would back the establishment of an interim government and reform of the IEC which would allow Abdullah to participate in elections in the spring.
Both Massoud and Abdullah hinted yesterday that he would consider re-entering the race if conditions for a runoff vote were made fairer.
But western diplomats believe that would simply prolong Afghanistan's political limbo. During the 108 days since the campaign period officially began in July the government has been unable to take major decisions.
A spring election would prevent the government from taking steps which foreign diplomats hope will start to deal with the country's many problems, including corruption and declining security.
With so many unpalatable options confronting them, diplomats pushed until late on Saturday evening for a power-sharing deal between Karzai and Abdullah.
The negotiations, led by UN chief Kai Eide and US ambassador Karl Eikenberry, appeared to have made a breakthrough with western diplomats saying Abdullah would concede defeat in return for being given a say in the appointment of key cabinet ministers.
Although the talks finally broke down, Abdullah did not call for a boycott of the election as some had feared, instead saying he would merely "not participate" in the process.
He also said he had told his supporters to remain calm and not to protest, or even to come together in large gatherings.