US urges safe, fair Afghan election

The U.S. is urging Afghan presidential candidates, supporters, and officials to abide by election laws and regulations this Saturday.

The high-stakes contest to replace President Hamid Karai could determine whether U.S. troops can remain in Afghanistan after 2014.

“When millions of Afghan men and women go to the polls on April 5 to choose a new President, it could mark Afghanistan’s first democratic transition of power, and we all have a stake in seeing that milestone achieved,” Secretary of State John Kerry said in a statement.

“By committing to an inclusive, fair, and transparent process, Afghanistan’s leaders will contribute to an outcome that is broadly accepted by Afghans and that strengthens the unity of the country and its democratic future."

The U.S. wants to leave a small troop presence in Afghanistan beyond the end of its combat mission in 2014, but would need to get a bilateral security agreement signed with the Afghan president before then.

Karzai has refused to sign the agreement, saying he wanted to leave it for the incoming president.

If there is a delay or disruption during the election process, or if the results are not accepted or met with violence, the troop agreement could be at risk.

According to Afghan election laws, if there is no clear winner, a run-off election would be held in late June. The winner is expected to be sworn-in sometime in late August.

If a candidate is assassinated during this process, a new election would have to be held sometime within the next two years — which could prolong Karzai's rule.

“The peaceful handover of power will be just as important as the progress achieved over the past decade in building a stronger, more secure and prosperous Afghanistan,” Kerry said. “The United States is ready to work with the next president, and we look forward to an enduring partnership with the Afghan people, consistent with our shared democratic values and interests."

Kerry and Karzai spoke on the phone earlier this week, Karzai said. According to the statement, Kerry has been working to address Karzai's concerns over signing an agreement.