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Afghan Elections

A Complex Electorate Casts Its Ballots

Karzai, Abdullah Teams Both Expect Election Win

Afghanistan's voters went to the polls on Aug. 20, 2009, for the nation's second presidential election since the fall of the Taliban in 2001. Two months later, Afghanistan's election commission ordered a runoff election for Nov. 7 after a fraud investigation invalidated nearly a million of President Hamid Karzai's votes.

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By Pamela Constable and Joshua Partlow
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, August 21, 2009; 9:57 AM

KABUL, Aug. 21 -- President Hamid Karzai and his top election rival both claimed Friday that they were comfortably ahead in Thursday's nationwide polling and expected to win the presidency, while election officials admonished all candidates against making such claims until official results are announced.

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The competing assertions of likely victory by spokesmen for Karzai and by his chief challenger, former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah, came amid widespread tension and uncertainty over the legitimacy of the election, which was marred by low turnout and threats of violence in numerous provinces.

The major question is whether any candidate will obtain the simple majority of votes needed to prevent a run-off. Pre-election voter surveys indicated that neither Karzai nor Abdullah would be able to reach that goal, but that Karzai would probably win a second round of polling in early October.

"Based on the early reports from election officials and local media, we are ahead of every other candidate, and we expect to win," Wahid Omar, a spokesman for Karzai's campaign, said Friday. He added, however, that the president would wait for the official announcement by election officials and would respect the result.

Abdullah's spokesman, Fazel Sancharaki, sharply contradicted that assertion. He declared on a national television program Thursday night that Abdullah had "about 60 percent" of the vote nationwide and a much higher percentage in four provinces. He also told news agencies Friday that Abdullah was "far ahead" in half of the country's 34 provinces.

Election officials, meanwhile, urged all candidates to refrain from making premature claims and allow the vote-counting process to be completed. They said they expected all ballots to be counted by Saturday and that they planned to issue preliminary results on Tuesday. However, they said final results would take considerably longer because any challenges or claims of fraud must first be resolved.

"Any other announcement of results except ours are not credible. Let us finish the process, and we will announce the results," Daud Ali Najafi, a spokesman for the independent election commission, said at a news conference Friday. He also cautioned against predictions based on vote counts from a few polling districts, saying they did not necessarily reflect nationwide trends.

Another sensitive issue is whether voter turnout will prove high enough to make the election credible. Election officials and observers said Friday that turnout varied widely and was extremely low in some southern regions where Taliban insurgents intimidated voters. But they also said they hoped the final turnout nationwide would be as high as 50 percent.

Defying threats from the radical Islamist Taliban movement to bomb polling stations and maim voters, millions of Afghans cast ballots Thursday in a presidential election that was more peaceful and orderly than expected amid widespread predictions of violence and fraud.

Officials said nine civilians and 18 members of the Afghan security forces were killed in scattered incidents of election-day violence, including a foiled attack on a police station in the capital. Officials said that they thwarted numerous suicide attacks planned for Kabul in recent days and that security was effective in major cities and towns.

In rural areas nationwide, more than 800 polling stations out of about 7,000 were closed because of security concerns, but there were no reports of major insurgent attacks. Taliban leaders had threatened to carry out suicide attacks against what they called a "sham" and "infidel" election, but the strikes did not materialize.

"The Afghan people dared rockets, bombs and intimidation to come out to vote," Karzai, who has led Afghanistan for 7 1/2 years, told reporters at his palace Thursday afternoon. "We regret the loss of civilian lives, but we are grateful for the sacrifices people made. It went very, very well."


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