Afghanistan's outgoing President Hamid Karzai on Friday called for the United Nations to intervene in the country's presidential election process after once-front-runner Abdullah Abdullah dropped out of the process over allegations of mass fraud by both his opponent and Karzai himself.
Millions of Afghans turned out on Saturday for a second-round runoff to elect a successor to Karzai, a decisive test of the country's ambitions to transfer power democratically for the first time in its tumultuous history.
But on Wednesday, former opposition leader Abdullah Abdullah, also formerly of the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance, withdrew his monitors from the process and demanded the vote count be halted, potentially derailing what is seen as a make-or-break vote before most foreign troops leave the country.
He also called for the U.N. to intervene to salvage the process, a step Karzai indicated in a Friday statement that he would support.
"Pointing to Dr. Abdullah's suggestion about the U.N. role ... Karzai said that not only he agreed with this suggestion but he counts it a positive step for tackling this problem," read a release from Karzai's office.
Abdullah's team has questioned what it has determined is a 1 million vote lead by opponent Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai in the early tallies. Abdullah pointed out that it is a dramatic increase from the first round, which put him in the lead with 45 percent of the vote compared with 31.6 percent for his rival.
The U.N. said Abdullah's move was regrettable and that due process should continue. The organization was not immediately available to comment on Karzai's Friday statement.
The runoff between Abdullah and Ghani, an ex–World Bank economist and former finance minister, was forced after neither secured the 50 percent needed to win the first round outright on April 5.
Though Karzai has seen his popularity wane since he took office 13 years ago and has chosen not to endorse either candidate, he is widely believed to back Ghani.
Abdullah echoed that accusation in a statement Wednesday, saying that "everybody knows that unfortunately the president of Afghanistan was not impartial" and that some ballot boxes were stuffed with votes the day before the second-round election.
The initial results are not due until July 2, with final results expected on July 22.
No one anticipated the elections to go off without a hitch, particularly because Taliban violence scared away most international observers in the run-up to the April vote. Just before that first round, Afghanistan’s ambassador to the United States, Eklil Hakimi, told Al Jazeera he was sure elections would not be “100 percent perfect.”
As preparations were being made for Saturday's runoff, election officials told Al Jazeera that both candidates were engaging in extensive fraud, including hiring local strongmen to stuff ballot boxes.
But the dispute has thrown the transfer of power into turmoil, to the dismay of international backers looking for a concrete sign of progress after 13 years of costly military and civilian assistance.
The Taliban, who were removed from power by the 2001 U.S. invasion, have mounted a small comeback in Afghanistan's remote tribal regions, and there are fears that political turmoil spawned by a disputed election result could boost the insurgency.
In an apparent effort to reassure Afghans, Karzai said Friday that "the disputes and doubts arising during the election process are a natural thing."
"It is fine and calm in the country," he said.
Michael Pizzi contributed to this report, with wire services.