Afghanistan has begun tallying votes from the weekend’s historic presidential elections, a process that will take weeks to complete, but rough early counts suggest that the country is heading for a second-round showdown between two former ministers. Voters defied Taliban intimidation, turning out in unexpectedly high numbers on Saturday to choose a successor to Hamid Karzai, who has ruled for 12 years and is barred by the constitution from seeking a third term. The Taliban mounted nearly 700 attacks nationwide, said General Zahir Azimy, spokesman for the defence ministry, but fears of a bloody, dramatic attack in the capital or another major city during the election proved unfounded. The day ended with an outpouring of support for the 350,000 police and soldiers on duty around the country, who for the first time secured an election without foreign support.
Now diplomats and observers are calling for candidates to respect Afghans’ display of trust in their young democracy by allowing election organisers to sort through results and complaints, after all three front-runners said they were confident of success and warned of fraud by other camps.
“Premature announcements will only undermine this historic political transition process and its democratic, peaceful character,” the United Nations envoy to Afghanistan, Jan Kubis, warned the groups competing for power.