Seven million Afghan citizens headed to the polls on Saturday to vote in what will mark the first successful transition of power from one elected leader to another. The voting took place amid much anxiety about the possibility of violence, which was a feature at previous elections in the country. Voter turnout in the Afghan elections was higher than expected; 60 percent of the 12 million-some Afghans eligible voted in the presidential and provincial elections.
Initial reports suggest that, as expected, Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani are the frontrunners so far. Incumbent Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s preferred candidate Zulmai Rassoul appears to have been largely sidelined. At this point, it appears that a run-off vote is likely and could extend the period of time required before Afghanistan can formally name a new president.
Both Abdullah, the opposition leader, and Ghani, an economist and former World Bank executive, would represent a major departure from Hamid Karzai, whose influence will likely be limited following the leadership transition. Both candidates indicated that they would conclude the long-stalled Bilateral Security Agreement with the United States, which would allow for a limited American troop presence in Afghanistan following the general withdrawal at the end of this year. The remaining troops would participate in limited counter-terrorism operations and train the Afghan National Security Forces.
Afghanistan Pajhwok news agency predicts an outcome of 42.1 percent for Ghani and 40.7 percent for Abdullah. According to the Afghan constitution, a run-off vote is necessary should no candidate succeed in securing an absolute majority.
The fairness of this election compared to 2009 was much better according to observers, but there were still reports of fraud and ballot-stuffing. In 2009, over one million votes had to be disqualified.
Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission will announce results in the coming weeks while allegations of fraud and ballot-stuffing are investigated.