Afghan voters will return to the polls next month to choose a successor to outgoing Afghan President Hamid Karzai, whose refusal to sign a deal permitting US troops to stay beyond the end of the year has raised security concerns as the Taliban wages a deadly campaign of bombings and attacks.
The second round of voting was announced yesterday in Kabul and set for June 14. It will likely feature a tight race between two top candidates from the first round: former Afghan minister of foreign affairs Abdullah Abdullah and ex-minister of finance Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai.
Yet that is also cause for concern since the second round will coincide with the height of the Taliban spring offensive launched earlier this week. The insurgency has renewed its campaign of attacks on the Afghan police and military, increasing fears over security when voters head to the polls.
The Taliban have vowed to disrupt the vote with bombings and attacks, although the first round on April 5 was relatively violence-free.
Abdullah garnered 45 percent of votes in the first round, while Ahmadzai came second with 31.6 percent, Independent Election Commission of Afghanisatan chairman Ahmad Yousuf Nouristani said.
Earlier this week, Abdullah picked up a potential election-tipping endorsement in Zalmai Rassoul, a fellow former Afghan minister of foreign affairs who took 11.5 percent in the first round.
Yet it is unclear if Rassoul can deliver the votes of his supporters, who are largely Pashtuns, the country’s largest ethnic group.
International attention is also focused on whether the new president will sign the US security pact. Both Abdullah and Ahmadzai have said they support the deal.
The final results announced by Nouristani were almost exactly the same as the preliminary results released late last month.
More than 7 million Afghans voted in the first round, considered a strong turnout in a poll plagued by Taliban threats and logistical hardships for voters and poll workers.
Jan Kubis, the UN secretary general’s special representative for Afghanistan, commended the candidates for running “a hard-fought, but positive campaign.”
US Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan James Dobbins on Tuesday said there is a risk that the cordial tone between candidates in the first round could sharpen in the second round.
“The second round could become a little more negative potentially, it could be more potentially divisive, I’m not predicting this, but it’s something that one worries about a bit,” he said from Tokyo, where he was attending a meeting of the International Contact Group on Afghanistan and Pakistan.
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