Karzai Poised to Win First-ever Afghan Elections

The election, which took place Oct. 9, was canceled twice because of security problems.

Election workers are waiting for just a couple of hundred ballot boxes from the remote northwest province of Badakhshan, along with some from Afghan refugees living in Pakistan.

“With a bit of luck we’ll wrap up today,” said David Avery, chief of operations for the Joint Electoral Management Body.

There were 18 candidates in the presidential election, but the U.S.-backed Karzai, a tribal leader of the ethnic Pashtun group, was the favorite to win.

Karzai held an evident majority on Monday, carrying 55.3 percent of the vote, or 4.2 million votes, with 94.3 percent of the ballots counted. The percentage is enough to avoid a run-off with his closest competitor, Yunus Qanuni, a former cabinet minister and ethnic Tajik, who garnered a little over 16.2 percent of the vote, or 1.2 million votes.

The United States picked Karzai to head an interim government after U.S. and Afghan forces overthrew the Islamic Taliban government in 2001 for providing refuge to Osama bin Laden, the organizer of the Sept. 11 attacks.

Remnants of the Taliban regime and the al-Qaida terrorist network had promised to use bombings and assaults to hinder the elections, but the Afghans did not seem deterred.

“We want a proper government that can be active, with a good police force,” Amadullah, a 35-year-old trader, told The New York Times as he cast his vote.

An estimated 70 to 80 percent of Afghans voted in the election, and roughly 10 million Afghan citizens were registered to vote in the election. The polls were guarded by about 100,000 Afghan and international security forces.

“[Election Day] was a huge defeat for the Taliban,” said Lt. Gen. David Barno, commander of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, The Washington Post reported. “The Taliban didn’t show.”

Despite a successful election day, Afghans faced potential controversy when Karzai’s opponents listed 300 complaints of voter fraud and polling errors in the election process.

Candidates claimed that ink placed on voters’ hands to indicate if they had voted rubbed off, which could allow people to vote twice.

But the controversy subsided as the competitors agreed to an impartial three-panel, made up of a Canadian diplomat and election experts from Britain and Sweden, review of the results.

Diplomats and other sources said the opposition candidates decided to accept the panel after receiving upbeat feedback on the election from Afghan citizens.

“Some candidates now believe they acted in too much of a rush. Their statements were not well received,” a Western diplomat told The Washington Post. “Most of them are now looking for a way out without losing face.”

The newly elected president faces an uphill climb trying to provide security and rebuild a country ravaged by decades of war.

In an effort to stabilize the country, the government has tried to disarm 40,000 men loyal to rival militia throughout the country. So far, only 9,700 have disarmed.

In addition to security, Karzai will need to combat rapidly growing opium production.

The illegal drug is made from the bright red poppy flowers that farmers grow because it is one of the only ways to make money in the war-torn economy.

According to United Nations estimates, poppy farmers earn over $2,500 a year, while traditional crop farmers earn about $700 a year. About 7 million Afghans now farm poppy.