(AFP) KABUL – Observers gave their approval to Afghanistan’s first-ever presidential election, deeming it “fairly democratic” and rejecting opposition calls for a re-poll on the grounds of fraud.
“A fairly democratic environment has generally been observed in the overall majority of the polling centres,” the local Free and Fair Elections Foundation of Afghanistan (FEFA) declared, a day after the fraud claims tainted the massive voter turnout and jubilation among electors.
(Little Kabul area of Fremont, Calif. Saturday, Oct. 9, 2004)
The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which contributed to the 230 foreign monitors, said Saturday’s demand by 14 opposition candidates to nullify the landmark election was “unjustified”.
Any dispute about the validity of the election results “should be dealt with as the law provides,” said Robert Barry, head of the OSCE support team.
“The millions who came to the polls clearly wanted to turn from the rule of the gun to the rule of law,” he said.
Opposition candidates charge that the vote was fraudulent and illegitimate, largely because special ink which was supposed to stain voters’ fingers to prevent them voting twice could be washed off.
Some of the protest candidates took a softer stance Sunday, saying they would bow to the findings of an election commission inquiry.
“If they satisfy us, then of course we will accept the results of the elections,” said ethnic Hazara warlord Mohammed Mohaqeq.
Said Abdul Hadi Dabir, who was one of the group of 14, told AFP: “There was lots of fraud and violations, but we will accept whatever is good for the nation.”
US-backed interim President Hamid Karzai, who is expected to win, called the vote a “defeat of terrorism.”
“It was…really tremendously inspiring to see millions of Afghans come out of their homes and villages and mountainous areas and travel for hours in snow and rain and dust storms to line up and vote,” he told BBC television from Kabul.
“The Afghan people yesterday won the day, against terrorism, against all those who said that Afghans could not make it.”
Afghanistan’s first experience in democracy was hailed around the world for the strong voter turnout and absence of feared attacks by the former Taliban rulers, who have killed hundreds of people including 12 electoral workers this year.
The hardline regime was ousted three years ago by US-led forces for refusing to hand over Osama bin Laden, mastermind of the September 11 terror attacks.
Despite bitter pledges by Taliban loyalists’ to disrupt the election, turnout among the 10.5 million registered voters was “massive,” the United Nations (news – web sites) said.
US President George W. Bush, keen to present Afghanistan as a foreign policy success as he heads to November polls, hailed the vote as “a really great thing.”
“Just three years ago, women were being executed in the sports stadium. Today they’re voting for a leader of a free country…amazing, isn’t it? Freedom is beautiful,” Bush said while campaigning in Iowa.
Australian Prime Minister John Howard, re-elected the same day Afghans had their first taste of voting, pointed to the Afghan ballot in his victory speech.
“That election has been made possible by reason of the fact that a number of countries, including Australia, were prepared to take a stand for democracy and to take a stand against terrorism,” he said.
On the ground Sunday ballot boxes were being ferried to counting centres in eight towns. Preliminary results may be available in a couple of days, UN officials said.
Afghans from remote Hindu Kush villages to dusty southern Taliban heartlands were jubilant at their first chance to have a say in their country’s destiny, and some were bewildered by the boycott call.
“I’m furious against those candidates because they want to create a dangerous situation,” said Gholam Sidiq, 19, in the western city of Herat, adding that the vote was “free, it was perfect.”
A convoy carrying ballot papers was attacked in Uruzgan province and three policemen were killed, but elsewhere the feared violence by Taliban insurgents failed to materialise.
The biggest threat to the polls’ ultimate success is now the opposition’s rejection.
Analysts and observer groups had warned in the leadup to the vote that it would not be flawless, given the Taliban insurgency, warlord intimidation, poor security and monitoring and under-training of electoral staff.
Many are now wondering if the bar for “free and fair elections” was set so low that the result will lack legitimacy.