Afghan election ‘victory over violence’

Trucks and donkeys loaded with ballot boxes made their way to counting centres as Afghans and the international community sighed with relief that national elections were held without major violence despite a Taliban threat.

Millions of Afghans crowded into mosques and schools to vote on Saturday for a new president and provincial councils. President Hamid Karzai is on his way out, constitutionally barred from a third term after leading the country since the Taliban were ousted in 2001.

The international community praised the vote and high turnout, despite complaints about a shortage of ballots and reports of fraud.

The UN Security Council said it applauded the Afghan-led preparations for the vote and commended the performance of the Afghan security forces who fanned out to protect polling stations. Scattered violence including bombings, rocket attacks and gun battles were reported to have killed at least 20 people on Saturday, but no major attacks occurred. Electoral officials urged patience, saying complaints were still being logged and ballots tallied. It is likely to be at least a week before a complete picture of the results emerges.

Thijs Berman, the head of the European Union’s election assessment team in Kabul, said it was too soon to draw firm conclusions, but he hailed the courage of Afghan voters.

“This in itself is a victory over violence and a victory over all those who wanted to deter democracy by threats and violence.”

Experts, meanwhile, looked for signs of deal-making among the eight candidates as it was widely expected that none would get the majority needed to win outright and avoid a runoff vote.

“We need and seek a political compromise because many candidates represent the interest of specific ethnic groups,” said Haroon Mir, an Afghan political analyst. “It’s for the good of the Afghan people and the country, if we could reach a political compromise in the runoff between the top two contenders, that will be a better outcome.”

The three front-runners in a field of eight candidates expressed confidence that they could win, or at least advance to a second round, but all promised to respect the findings of the Independent Election Commission assuming they were “credible.”

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