KABOL, 18 Oct. (IPS) First results from Afghanistan's first presidential election put incumbent President Hamid Karzai in the lead, according to the Joint Electoral Management Board (JEMB), that gave the present Prime Minister 62.9%, ten per cent lower than the first return of the votes.
With almost one million out of the total estimated poll of seven million votes counted, Yunes Qanooni, the former Education Minister and Karzai’s main rival got 18.3% of the votes, or up 2 per cent. Sixteen other candidates shared the remaining 24% of the vote.
Voting turned out to be more or less democratic, heralding new era of peace and prosperity in the counry ravaged by decades of fratricide war, occupation and bloody insurgency.
The vote counting started on Thursday, but was halted for one day to mark the beginning of the month of Ramazan, Muslim’s fasting period, but resumed on Saturday and with 34,078 votes counted in five provinces, about 1 percent of the expected total, the American and Europeans-backed Karzai was declared the big winner.
But Qanooni said a full count and a proper investigation by a panel of foreign experts on fraud allegations could yet put him in the running. He said his acceptance of the final results depends on the thoroughness of the probe.
"If they are able to separate the fraud from the wishes of the people, at that time we will see if the election is legitimate," he said. "Anything else is a coup."
Contrary to many expectations, the elections took place in a relatively calm atmosphere and according to almost all foreign observers, voting turned out to be more or less democratic, heralding, as many Afghans hopes, new era of peace in the rugged land, ravaged by decades of fratricide war, occupation and bloody insurgency.
Abdol Rashid Dostom, the governor of the northern province of Mazar Sharif scored 10.1 percent followed by the Hazara chief Mohammed Mohaqeq with 1.6 percent and Mrs. Mas’ooda Jalal, the only female candidate in the race, who had 1.4 percent. The other 13 presidential candidates all had less that 1.1 percent of the ballots.
"Counting has begun again everywhere -- in all eight regional counting centres", said Afghan electoral commission spokesman Aykut Tavsel. Officials have to retrieve ballot boxes from remote villages and then mix up the ballots so nobody will know how a given village or district voted, an attempt to protect voters from Taleban retaliation that will take as long as a fortnight.
Zalmay Khalilzad, the Afghan-born US Ambassador to Kabol warned that it could takeup to 10 years for Afghanistan to become a successful democratic state.
US President George W. Bush, several worlds’ leading nations as well as the international community hailed the election as a success. US Secretary of State Colin Powell said it showed that democracy was also possible in Iraq.
But Mr. Zalmay Khalilzad, the Afghan-born US Ambassador to Kabol warned that it could takeup to 10 years for Afghanistan to become a successful democratic state.
"I think Afghanistan is firmly heading in the right direction. I think the Afghan people would like to succeed", he added after meeting with US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
The Envoy also praised Afghans for voting despite threats from al Qa’eda and Taleban insurgents, but stressed that it would take time to build the Afghan army and police force to a size necessary to maintain security for the country.
"Time could take as long as 10 years for it to be a truly successful country in terms of its security, in terms of economic development, in terms of being a successful democratic state", Mr. Khalilzad told reporters, adding, "If the journey of Afghanistan standing on its own feet, being a successful country, is a 10-mile journey, Afghanistan has just, in my view, passed mile three".
“This exercise is the beginning of a long road where the international community must fully play its vital role for the reconstruction of the war-ravaged nation, for Afghanistan can easily go back to anarchy”, said Andrew Wilder, Director of Afghanistan Research Unit Centre based in Kabol, observing that the senior warlords continue their control of most parts of the mountainous nation.
“Badly deceived by 3 years of inefficient governance, the Afghans wants new abd bold personalities, not the statu quo”, Wilder added.
“More than for the personality of Karzai, the Afghans voted for a lasting peace and prosperity”, said Francoise Chipaux, the Correspondent of the French influential daily “Le Monde” covering Afghanistan.
However, the elections were marred by allegations of fraud and mismanagement after the ink supposed to be indelible after marking voters fingers in order to prevent multiple voting, was found to be easily washable.
In their view, if he present trend of vote counting continue in favour of Karazi, the Prime Minister would have call on some of his opponents to form his new government, personalities like Qanooni, Dostom, the Uzbek war lord, mrs. Mass’ouda Jalal, the only female canidate or Esma’il Khan, the former Emir of Heart.
But Qanooni has told the American news agency The Associated Press that he might prefer forming a strong opposition part instead of joining the government.
Candidates opposed to Mr. Karzai complained that the ink was deliberately used to favour Karzai and menaced to boycott the elections unless the whole process of voting is renewed.
An international panel of experts appointed at the last minute to investigate the complaints ruled out new elections but said it would look into the allegations of vote rigging.
Analysts say that if the trend continues, Karzai would have to bring into his future government some of his majors opponents, starting with Mr. Qanooni, the Tajik chief who enjoys great popularity for being a close friend of the late Ahmad Shah Mas’oud, the legendary warlord assassinated by Arab terrorists sent by Osama Ben Laden, al-Qa’ed’as leader.
“Until now, Karzai has not convinced the international community nor the Afghan people”, Ms. Chipaux wrote, adding however that since he would have to govern in the absence of the parliament, due to be elected next spring, Karzai will have “all the powers, if not the instruments” to fulfil his promises.
“After election, Karzai would have no excuse of not putting into application his promises, if not, he would be rejected by the population”, said Hoseyn Sangcharkhi, an independent Afghan analyst. ENDS AFGHAN ELECTIONS 181004