Afghans’ next test: Tallying votes
USA Today
By Jim Michaels

KABUL — Afghan officials began the long and potentially controversial process of counting votes after a relatively calm election that was marred by concerns over low turnout and possible fraud.

Full results may not be known for several days in a vast country where donkeys were used to deliver ballot boxes to many remote villages.

President Hamid Karzai, who faced a tough re-election fight at a time when the Taliban insurgency is again on the rise, congratulated voters for braving threats of violence and taking a major step in the country’s development as a democracy.

“We’ll see what the turnout was, but they came out to vote,” Karzai said. “That is great.”

At least 26 people died in scattered violence around the country, but there were no massive attacks, and many voters said they’d take their chances. “The Taliban aren’t able to attack all the polling centers,” said Kabir Zarif, 62, as he voted in a high school gym in Kabul.

Hasiba Omar, 22, described voting as “one of our duties.”

President Obama described the vote as a success, and called for Americans to maintain their resolve despite mounting U.S. troop casualties. “We have to focus on finishing the job in Afghanistan, but it is going to take some time,” Obama said.

Karzai, a U.S. ally whose popularity has faded in recent months because of violence and a faltering economy, was ahead in pre-election polls but will face a runoff unless he gets 50% of the vote.
Two candidates alleged irregularities.

Abdullah Abdullah said his poll workers found people who were pressured to vote for Karzai and said he would complain to election regulators. Ramazan Bashardost demanded voting be stopped after he said he washed off the supposedly indelible ink placed on voters’ fingers to prevent fraud.

Widespread allegations of fraud could weaken the eventual winner. Richard Holbrooke, Obama’s envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, has warned that counting votes accurately could prove more challenging than holding the election.

Rich Williamson of the International Republican Institute, a non-partisan pro-democracy group, said he didn’t expect any major problems. Yet he warned that “if there is blanket fraud as we saw in Iran, you are going to test the tolerance level of people.”

Contributing: The Associated Press.

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