KABUL: In anxious preparation for a historic presidential election, Afghanistan fortified its cities against attack, primed observers to detect fraud ... then was blind-sided by a problem no one had even dared to imagine — unprecedented voter enthusiasm.
Defying Taliban threats and the more mundane challenge of rainy weather, Afghans flocked to the polls in such high numbers that ballots were running out in some places by midday.
Afghans are choosing a successor to President Hamid Karzai after 12 years, and if the handover is smooth it will be the first peaceful, democratic transfer of power their country has ever seen.
“Today is a vital day for us, the people of Afghanistan, that will determine our future,” Karzai said after casting his ballot and urged other voters to come out. Seven million Afghans cast votes, said election organisers, nearly two and a half million more than the last presidential poll, and about 60 percent of all eligible voters.
Even if results are declared clean, they will only be final if one candidate gets more than 50 percent of the vote. Anything lower triggers a second round runoff, and with strong competition between the top three candidates another polling day seems more likely than not.
Still, Afghans celebrated their extraordinary success in holding a day of voting. “Huge, huge day for Afghanistan. A historic event ends peacefully with millions casting their votes,” said Saad Mohseni, the businessman owner of Tolo TV. “A massive victory for our people, and a massive kick in the face for the Taliban.”