Afghanistan’s presidential election, held on April 5 with over 350,000 security personnel on duty, marks the country’s first potential democratic transfer of power. The Independent Election Commission put the turnout at about 60 per cent of a 12-million electorate. Three million more people voted than did in 2009, which shows public confidence in the electoral process itself; the previous election was deeply flawed. This time, although the Electoral Complaints Commission has received over 1,200 allegations of malpractice, the poll was better run than the previous one. Afghans of all ethnic groups turned out, and women made a strong showing; the figure was estimated at 35 per cent of the turnout. One candidate, Daoud Sultanzoy, voted along with his wife, the first time an Afghan politician appeared in public with a spouse. Over 86 per cent of the 20,000 polling stations opened; most of those which stayed closed were in the southern and southeastern provinces, where the army said it could not provide security. According to defence ministry spokesman General Zahir Azimy, the Taliban made about 700 attacks in various areas, but none was serious enough to disrupt the election, which was also the first in recent times to take place without foreign help. The counting process is being managed better than it was in 2009, with duplicated teams so as to limit fraud. Every polling station is required to post its results for the public to read or photograph.
The overall result is to be announced in a fortnight’s time, but uncertainties remain. The Taliban, who will lose most by the consolidation of democracy, have not succeeded in derailing the election, but their ranks number as many as 30,000 and they may be waiting for other chances to wreck the political process. A second issue has to do with the candidates’ own attitudes; none of them is likely to obtain the 50 per cent plus one vote needed for outright victory, and of the eight who contested, only three stand a realistic chance of going into the May 28 runoff. These are former foreign ministers Abdullah Abdullah and Zalmai Rassoul, and former finance minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai (the incumbent, Hamid Karzai, has completed the two five-year terms the Constitution allows). Mr. Rassoul trails the others, as his largely educated supporters are based around Kabul and other cities, and the two front-runners are claiming victory. Squabbling, or delays in the runoff, could let the Taliban to exploit the vacuum. The politicians owe it to the Afghan public, who have shown courage and commitment to the ballot box, to ensure a prompt and smooth handover of power.