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Afghan Loya Jirga Elects Hamid Karzai President

To the thunderous applause of the 1,500-member assembly, Ismail Qasimyar, head of the loya jirga commission, announced that Karzai had won at least 1,295 of the 1575 votes and named him the new president of the interim government.

Accepting his new post, Karzai told the cheering delegates, “God willing, I will be of service to Afghanistan, my religion, and will work for the development of my country.”

Voting was conducted by secret ballot with black and white pictures next to the name of each candidate. The next closest candidate for the top post, female delegate Masooda Jalal, won 171 votes.

Karzai was officially nominated by a former mujahedeen fighter, Mohammed Asef Mohsoni, who submitted a list of 1,050 names supporting his candidacy– well over half of the delegates attending the historic grand council.

Karzai enjoyed the support of the former King Mohammad Zahir Shah as well as a number of influential warlords of the ethnic majority Pashtun. Several other ethnic groups such as the Tajiks of the Northern Alliance had also thrown their support to Karzai.

In a speech accepting his nomination, Karzai told the delegates it was a “proud moment” and that one of his highest priorities would be to avoid more “conflict and misery” in the battle scarred country.

Switching between Pashto and Dari, the two main languages of Afghanistan, Karzai spoke of establishing new diplomatic ties with the international community while strengthening Afghanistan’s sovereignty.

“We need security, we need peace, we need stability, we need an administration in control of all of Afghanistan,” Karzai said.

Karzai has been widely praised for his six-month tenure as leader of the interim Afghan government, a post he attained through the U.N.-sponsored Bonn Agreement.

The loya jirga is now charged with outlining a new government for Karzai’s 18-month term as well as electing the 111-member parliament.