In ‘Mostly Fair’ Afghan Election, Karzai Appears Likely Winner

Interim Afghan President Hamid Karzai appeared to win Saturday’s election, securing an outright majority needed to avoid a runoff, according to preliminary exit polls conducted by the American nonprofit International Republican Institute, whose survey was financed by the U.S. Agency for International Development.

The group’s survey found Karzai well ahead of likely second place contender Yunus Qanooni by 43 percentage points, IRI said. The group has declined to provide specific vote totals for either candidate.

The poll offers the best indicator yet of the winner of the historic election, since election officials said they would not start counting the actual ballots for several days and the final results may not be known until Oct. 30, the Associated Press reported.

Organizers also said a third candidate — whose name they withheld — received 5 percent of the vote, while another 11 minor candidates each garnered less than 1 percent of the vote, according to the AP.

There had been 18 candidates on the ballot, though two dropped out two days before the election.

While Saturday’s vote was not disrupted by major clashes, the poll ended in confusion when the remaining 15 opposition candidates threatened to boycott the election and reject the results, widely believed to favor their rival, Karzai. The opposition candidates charged that the system of using indelible ink to prevent multiple voting had actually failed in its intent.

International observers and the independent electoral commission have both said the problem with the ink marking was not widespread and did not warrant a boycott of the entire electoral process.

By Monday, several opposition candidates, including Karzai’s lead rival, Yunus Qanooni, had backed down from the boycott, though their allegations remains unresolved.

“We want unity in this election, not a boycott. The people want it and we appreciate their feelings,” Qanooni told reporters Monday, adding he was speaking for many of the 15 candidates who had initially called for the boycott. Some candidates, however, said they would not back down, though it was not immediately clear how many were boycotting the election, the AP reported Monday.

Still, Afghan officials delayed counting ballots on Monday and the Joint Electoral Management Body electoral commission asked the United Nations to help set up a three-member independent panel to investigate the charges of ballot tampering.

The commission also called on Karzai’s rivals to submit a list of complaints by Tuesday evening.

“The JEMB has decided to request the U.N. to identify an impartial panel of international electoral experts to fully investigate these protests and present recommendations to the JEMB for its adjudication,” the commission said in a statement.

One top JEMB official, J. Ray Kennedy, said the count would be delayed until it was known how to handle suspect ballots.

“We are hoping all this will be in place by the end of the day tomorrow (Tuesday),” he told Reuters.

Downplaying concerns of the disputed election process, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld lauded the election as an “enormous accomplishment.” “The fact is they just had an election. It’s breathtaking,” Rumsfeld said.

Karzai on Sunday also praised the historic event, and emphasized the positive development of the country’s steps toward democracy.

“And we are hopeful that other candidates [who are boycotting the election] do not ignore the national jubilation and let the votes be counted. … The Afghan people voted in millions and that is what I see,” he said.