The first round of Afghanistan’s election this month delivered a resounding, three-part defeat to the Taliban. More than 7 million voters — some 60 percent of those registered — turned out in defiance of the Islamists’ threats. Afghan security forces effectively beat back 286 reported insurgent attacks, killing 141 attackers while losing only 17. And early vote counting is showing a decisive and welcome result: Two front-runners have emerged, Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani, who are moderate, pro-Western and committed to the fight against extremism.
Though tabulations of only 10 percent of the April 5 vote have so far been announced, Abdullah, with 42 percent of the vote, and Ghani, with 38 percent, were far in front of the other nine candidates — including Zalmay Rassoul, a former foreign minister who was the favored candidate of incumbent President Hamid Karzai. Since both front-runners are also well short of the threshold of 50 percent, neither will win the election outright if the current trends hold. That result would be relatively invulnerable to fraud charges; though thousands of complaints have been forwarded to a commission, they appear unlikely to undermine the emergence of the two men as top finishers.
Abdullah finished second to Karzai in a 2009 election that was tainted by low turnout and massive ballot-box stuffing by Karzai’s allies. This election not only produced a 50 percent higher turnout, but also a much more credible vote in the Kandahar region, the homeland of the Taliban and Karzai’s Pashtun ethnic group. Voting was heavy in the Kandahar area, and only 205 of 6,423 polling centers across the country failed to open.
The Afghan candidates, election officials and security forces must still run a gantlet of challenges to complete a successful election. The vote count is due to be completed by April 24, and the elections complaint commission has pledged to investigate every fraud report. A second round would be held by May 28; that would provide the Taliban with another opportunity to attack.
The Washington Post’s Joshua Partlow reports that U.S. and other Western officials are hoping that a runoff might be avoided through a deal between the front-runners. Such a bargain could speed the day when a new president could sign a pending security agreement with the United States — the key to leaving some U.S. forces in the country after 2014, and thus to preserving the state built since 2002. But Abdullah and Ghani are so far saying they don’t want such a deal, and they shouldn’t be pushed. Afghanistan needs a new president broadly accepted as legitimate. If that takes another vote, Afghans have demonstrated that they can pull it off.
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