Karzai campaign declares victory in Afghan vote

Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai’s campaign manager claimed victory on Friday in the country’s presidential election, saying preliminary results showed there would be no need for a second round run-off.

“Initial results show that the president has got a majority,” Deen Mohammad told Reuters, although he said it was the duty of the election commission to announce the official results.

“We will not get to a second round. We have got a majority.”

Mohammad said the estimate of victory was based on reports from about 29 000 monitors the campaign had at polling stations throughout the country.

Official preliminary results are not due for two weeks, but counting began immediately after polls closed on Thursday and is largely complete.

The 6 200 polling stations are required to make their results available to the public as they tabulate them, to prevent fraud.

A spokesperson for Karzai’s chief rival, Abdullah Abdullah, dismissed the victory claim.

“It isn’t true,” said Fazl Sangcharaki. “We also say, ‘Maybe we don’t need a second round and Abdullah has won.’”

Patience urged
Zekria Barakzai, deputy head of the Independent Election Commission (IEC) urged patience.

“We cannot confirm any claims by campaigning managers.
It’s the job of the election commission to declare the results. They should be patient.”

The United Nations mission in Kabul and the United States embassy both said no result was legitimate until endorsed by the IEC.

“We’ve seen the reports, but only the IEC is in a position to announce official results. We’ll be waiting to hear from them. Anything else is just speculation,” US embassy spokesperson Fleur Cowan said.

Afghan officials and their US protectors have breathed a sigh of relief after the relatively peaceful presidential election, which Taliban militants failed to disrupt despite sporadic attacks across the country.

Barakzai said two convoys of election workers transporting ballot boxes had been attacked following the vote. In one, in Balkh province in the north, an election worker was killed and ballots that had already been counted were burned.

He said preliminary figures showed overall turnout was about 40% to 50%. This would be roughly in line with estimates by Western diplomats before the poll.

Polls conducted before the election showed Karzai in the lead but suggested he might be headed for a run-off against Abdullah, a former foreign minister with strong support in the north.

Sangcharaki, Abdullah’s spokesperson, said the north had voted solidly for Abdullah, except for Jowzjan province, home of Uzbek militia chieftain Abdul Rashid Dostum, who returned to the country days before the vote to campaign for Karzai.

Western backers have expressed concern about Karzai’s tactic of seeking support from former militia chiefs, afraid that deals made to secure votes could bring warlords back to power.

Much is likely to depend on turnout in southern areas, such as Karzai’s home province of Kandahar, where the president draws his strongest support but voters faced the brunt of Taliban attacks and intimidation.

In Washington, US President Barack Obama hailed the conduct of the election and vowed to press on with his strategy, which has involved sending thousands of additional troops to the country.

“We had what appears to be a successful election in Afghanistan, despite the Taliban’s efforts to disrupt it,” Obama said from the White House.

“We have to focus on finishing the job in Afghanistan but it is going to take some time.”

The election was a test for Obama’s new strategy aimed at reversing Taliban gains. US combat casualties have risen amid a US troop buildup and opinion polls have shown weakening American backing for the war.—Reuters