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Lack of election violence, high voter turnout in Afghanistan is ‘fantastic slap’ to Taliban

April 7, 2014 at 6:17 PM EST
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JUDY WOODRUFF: To Afghanistan now, where, in a blow to the Taliban, a majority of eligible voters came out publicly over the weekend to cast ballots in an historic election.

Chief foreign affairs correspondent Margaret Warner reports.

MARGARET WARNER: Ballots by the truckload were brought to Kabul from the far reaches of Afghanistan, as the painstaking process of tabulating the Saturday vote totals began in earnest.

ZIAUL HAQ AMARKHEL, Secretary, Independent Election Commission, Afghanistan (through interpreter): The sensitive and non-sensitive material, including the results from districts of almost 15 provinces, has been delivered to the center of the provinces, according to schedule.

MARGARET WARNER: Nearly 60 percent of the 12 million eligible voters headed to the polls amid tight security. Long lines formed on a raw, rainy day in Kabul.

Outgoing President Hamid Karzai spoke after filling out his ballot.

PRESIDENT HAMID KARZAI, Afghanistan (through interpreter): I cast my vote today as a citizen of this country, and I am so glad and proud that I voted today. I am certain that today’s events and our people’s participation will take Afghanistan towards stability and better lives for the people.

MARGARET WARNER: The pace of deadly Taliban strikes had escalated leading up to the balloting. But Saturday saw no major attacks, and the high turnout was its own message, said prominent lawmaker Shukria Barakzai.

SHUKRIA BARAKZAI, Member of Parliament, Afghanistan: That was a fantastic slap on the face of enemy of Afghanistan, and exactly a big punch in the face of those whom believed Afghanistan is not ready for democracy.

MARGARET WARNER: There were three front-runners all bidding to replace President Karzai, who was term-limited after 12 years.

His favorite candidate is thought to be Zalmai Rassoul, a 70-year-old former foreign minister. Ashraf Ghani, a former World Bank official and finance minister, got just 3 percent of the vote in 2009 against Karzai. He said this election presented a choice for the Taliban, too.

ASHRAF GHANI, Presidential Candidate: They are going to deal with a genuinely elected government that is keen to establish its links with the public, that represents the will of the public. And they need to make a choice: Are they Afghans or agents of foreigners?

MARGARET WARNER: The third leading candidate is one-time Karzai ally Dr. Abdullah Abdullah. He served as foreign minister after the ouster of the Taliban.

DR. ABDULLAH ABDULLAH, Presidential Candidate (through interpreter): Today’s event can be the beginning of the democratic process in the history of Afghanistan and one step ahead toward a better future.

MARGARET WARNER: Abdullah got nearly 30 percent against Karzai in 2009 in an election marred by fraud, ballot box stuffing and official corruption; by some accounts, more than a million of the 4.5 million votes cast were deemed fraudulent.

At a dramatic gathering of his supporters in November that year, Abdullah withdrew from the runoff against Karzai, saying the fix was in. Now some early unofficial estimates from this election show Abdullah with a lead. Others show Ghani ahead.

So far, there aren’t reports of the kind of brazen fraud that marred the 2009 vote, though all three leading campaigns have leveled some charges of improprieties.

In Washington today, White House spokesman Jay Carney insisted the U.S. doesn’t have a favorite.

JAY CARNEY, White House Press Secretary: We don’t have a preferred candidate, because the future of Afghanistan is up to the Afghans to decide. But we look forward to a productive relationship with President Karzai’s successor, whomever that may be.

MARGARET WARNER: The Obama administration’s relations with Karzai, rocky at best, took another dive recently over his refusal to sign a bilateral security agreement.

That would let some American and international troops remain in Afghanistan beyond the end of this year to pursue al-Qaida and train Afghan forces. All three of Karzai’s potential successors have said they would sign the deal. Now all campaigns must wait. Preliminary results are due in three weeks, and a final official count on May 14. If no one gets more than 50 percent, there’s a runoff scheduled for late May.