Sun, Jun 15, 2014 - Page 6 News List

Afghans vote for second time in presidential runoff

DETERMINED:Long queues were seen snaking out of polling centers from 7am, reporters said, as Afghans defied security threats to try to take their nation forward

Reuters, KABUL

A woman holds her Afghan voter card after casting her ballot at a polling station in Bamiyan Province yesterday.

Photo: AFP

Afghans headed back to the polls yesterday for a second round of voting to elect a successor to Afghan President Hamid Karzai in a decisive test of Afghanistan’s ambitions to transfer power democratically for the first time in its tumultuous history.

As most foreign troops leave by the end of the year, whoever takes over from Karzai is to inherit a troubled country with an increasingly violent Taliban insurgency and an economy crippled by corruption and the weak rule of law.

The vote pits former anti-Taliban fighter Abdullah Abdullah against ex-World Bank economist Ashraf Ghani after neither secured the 50 percent majority needed to win outright in the first round on April 5.

There were far fewer incidents of violence than had initially been feared.

“Based on what I saw, it’s been a very calm election day with vigilant security,” Thijs Berman, the chief observer of the EU Election assessment team in Afghanistan, told reporters after visiting some polling stations.

About 12 million voters are eligible to cast ballots at 6,365 polling centers scattered across Afghanistan, from windswept deserts on the Iranian border to the rugged Hindu Kush mountains.

Preliminary results are expected on July 2.

Voters were not put off by a couple of rockets landing in the capital and other minor explosions, in which one person was reported injured. Long queues had snaked out of polling centers after voting began at 7am.

By midday, the Taliban had failed to pull off any major attacks in the capital, Kabul, or key provinces, but rocket attacks were also reported in eastern Ghazni Province.

Two tribal elders were killed when they defied a Taliban warning in Kunar Province not to participate in the elections, triggering a gun battle between the villagers and insurgents, provincial officials said.

Four rockets landed in the provincial capital, but no casualties were reported.

“As in the first round, I saw very determined voters,” Berman added. “Afghanistan needs a reliable outcome accepted by all stakeholders that would guarantee the peaceful transition from one president to another.”

The election process has been fraught with accusations of fraud by both candidates and many fear a close outcome will make it less likely the loser will accept defeat, dragging the nation into a risky, protracted stand-off over the vote.

“We ask everyone to prevent and discourage people from fraud and vote-rigging so that we can have a transparent, free and fair election,” Ghani said after casting his vote in West Kabul.

People have turned out in large numbers, his rival, Abdullah, told reporters. “Security is a concern but the people of Afghanistan have defied security threats so far,” Ghani said.

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