Defying a campaign of Taliban violence that unleashed 39 suicide bombers in the two months before election day, Afghan voters on Saturday turned out in such numbers to choose a new president and provincial councils that polling hours were extended nationwide, in a triumph of determination over intimidation.
Militants failed to mount a single major attack anywhere in Afghanistan by the time polls closed, and voters lined up despite heavy rain and cold in the capital and elsewhere. “Whenever there has been a new king or president, it has been accompanied by death and violence,” said Abdul Wakil Amiri, a government official who turned out early to vote at a Kabul mosque. “For the first time, we are experiencing democracy.”
After 12 years with President Hamid Karzai in power, and decades of upheaval, coup and war, Afghans on Saturday were for the first time voting on a relatively open field of candidates.
Turnout from the presidential election was seven million out of 12 million eligible voters, or about 58 percent, election commission chief Ahmad Yousuf Nuristani was quoted as saying by Reuters. Nuristani told reporters the figure of seven million was based on preliminary estimates.
But even as they celebrated the outpouring of votes, many acknowledged the long process looming ahead.
It is likely to take at least a week before even incomplete official results are announced, and weeks more to adjudicate election day complaints. Some of the candidates were already filing fraud complaints on Saturday.
With eight candidates in the race, the five minor candidates’ shares of the vote made it even more difficult for any one candidate to reach the 50 percent threshold that would allow an outright victory. A run-off vote is unlikely to take place until the end of May at the earliest.
A shortage of ballots at polling places, widespread across the country by midday Saturday, left with increasingly frustrated voters waiting for hours. Some were rewarded, as officials managed to rush in new ballots to meet the demand. Others waited in vain.
More worrisome, the threat of violence in many rural areas had forced election authorities to close nearly 1,000 out of a planned-for 7,500 polling places, raising fears that a big chunk of the electorate would remain disenfranchised.
But when it came to attacks on election day, the Taliban’s threats seemed to be greatly overstated. Only one suicide bombing attempt could be confirmed — in Khost — and the bomber managed to kill only himself when the police stopped him outside a polling place.