Afghanistan’s presidential election closed on Saturday amid relief that attacks by Taliban fighters were fewer than feared for a vote that will bring the first-ever democratic transfer of power in a country plagued by conflict for decades.
It will take six weeks for results to come in from across Afghanistan’s rugged terrain and a final result to be declared in the race to succeed President Hamid Karzai.
This could be the beginning of a potentially dangerous period for Afghanistan at a time when the war-ravaged country desperately needs a leader to stem rising violence as foreign troops prepare to leave.
“Today we proved to the world that this is a people driven country,” Karzai, wearing his trademark green robe and a lambskin hat, told his nation in televised remarks.
“On behalf of the people, I thank the security forces, election commission and people who exercised democracy and … turned another page in the glorious history of Afghanistan.”
One of the eight candidates will have to score over 50 percent of the vote to avoid a run-off with his nearest rival.
Thankfully, the Taliban threat to wreck the vote through bombings and assassination failed to materialise, and violent incidents were on a far smaller scale than feared.
Turnout was seven million out of 12 million eligible voters, or about 58 percent, according to preliminary estimates, election commission chief Ahmad Yousuf Nuristani told reporters.
That was well above the 4.5 million who voted at the last election in 2009 which was marred by widespread fraud.
“I am here to vote and I am not afraid of any attacks,” said Haji Ramazan as he stood in line at a polling station in rain-drenched Kabul. “This is my right, and no one can stop me.”
The United States could point to the advance of democracy in one of the world’s most violent countries as a success as it prepares to withdraw the bulk of its troops this year.
It has spent $90 billion on aid and security training since helping Afghan forces to topple a strict Islamist Taliban regime in 2001, but U.S. support for Afghanistan’s fight against the Taliban has faded.
When the last election was held, the Obama administration had viewed Afghanistan as the “good war” – unlike Iraq – ordering a ‘surge’ of over 60,000 additional soldiers to be deployed.
Yet as U.S. troops get ready continued…