Security fears cloud Afghan campaigns
The Boston Globe
By Laura King | Los Angeles Times Writer

KABUL — Oversize posters of President Hamid Karzai blanketed the Afghan capital Tuesday as the two-month presidential campaign began. While Afghans on the street openly complained about Karzai’s rule, a new survey showed why he is likely to win a second term: His opponents have almost no support.

The poll found that 31 percent of 3,200 Afghans surveyed said they would vote for Karzai if the Aug. 20 presidential election were held today — a steep decline from the 55 percent of Afghans who voted to give him a five-year term in 2004.

But Karzai is likely to take comfort with the survey’s other results: 69 percent of respondents had a favorable opinion of him, and 43 percent of likely voters said he deserves a second term.

Most strikingly, only 7 percent of respondents said they would vote for Karzai’s closet competitor, former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah. The next strongest opponent, former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani, had just 4 percent support.

The poll, based on face-to-face interviews, was conducted in May and funded by the International Republican Institute, a nongovernmental organization that receives funding from USAID, the U.S. government aid arm. The poll, which sought to strike a representative sample along ethnic and gender lines, had a margin of error of plus or minus 2 percentage points.

Campaigning got off to a slow start Tuesday, with Karzai in Russia and Abdullah not appearing in public. But Ghani held a rally under a colorful tent.

Taliban militants this month have launched a record number of attacks, and the U.S. and other NATO countries are sending in tens of thousands of extra troops to be tasked in part with helping to protect voters.

Karzai has served as Afghanistan’s leader since soon after the Taliban regime’s ouster in 2001. But Afghans rail against his government for incompetence and corruption, and against U.S. troops for accidental civilian killings in military operations.

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