New York Times
KABUL, Afghanistan - Defying a campaign of Taliban violence that unleashed 39 suicide bombers in the two months before Election Day, Afghan voters on Saturday turned out in such numbers to choose a new president and provincial councils that polling hours were extended nationwide, in a triumph of determination over intimidation.
Militants failed to mount a single major attack anywhere in Afghanistan by the time polls closed, and voters lined up despite heavy rain and cold in the capital and elsewhere.
"Whenever there has been a new king or president, it has been accompanied by death and violence," said Abdul Wakil Amiri, a government official who turned out early to vote at a Kabul mosque. "For the first time, we are experiencing democracy."
After 12 years with President Hamid Karzai in power, and decades of upheaval, coup and war, Afghans on Saturday were for the first time voting on a relatively open field of candidates.
Election officials said that by midday more than 31/2 million voters had turned out - already approaching the total for the 2009 vote. The election commission chairman, Mohammad Yusuf Nuristani, said the total could reach 7 million. "The enemies of Afghanistan have been defeated," he declared.
But even as they celebrated the outpouring of votes, many acknowledged the long process looming ahead, with the potential for problems all along the way.
International observers, many of whom had fled Afghanistan after a wave of attacks on foreigners during the campaign, cautioned that how those votes were tallied and reported would bear close watching. It is likely to take at least a week before even incomplete official results are announced, and weeks more to adjudicate Election Day complaints. Some of the candidates were already filing fraud complaints Saturday. With eight candidates in the race, the five minor candidates' shares of the vote made it even more difficult for any one candidate to reach the 50 percent threshold for an outright victory. A runoff vote is unlikely to take place until the end of May at the earliest.
The leading candidates going into the vote were Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, 64, a technocrat and former official in Karzai's government; Abdullah Abdullah, 53, a former foreign minister who was the second biggest vote-getter against Karzai in the 2009 election; and Zalmai Rassoul, 70, another former foreign minister.
An Associated Press correspondent shot and wounded while covering preparations for elections in Afghanistan was in stable condition Saturday at a military hospital in Kabul. Kathy Gannon, 60, suffered three gunshot wounds in the attack Friday that killed AP photographer Anja Niedringhaus in the eastern city of Khost. Gannon was expected to be transferred to a hospital out of the country in coming days.