The good news from Afghanistan is that the former Mujahideen doctor Abdullah Abdullah has strengthened his lead in the presidential race. The Independent Election Commission said initial results based on almost 50 percent of the vote out of the total 34 provinces showed Abdullah in the lead with 44.4 percent, followed by ex-World Bank official Ashraf Ghani with 33.2 percent of the votes. To win, a candidate must secure more than 50 percent of valid ballots. Failing that, the top two candidates go into a run-off. The results show that even if a run-off is held, Abdullah is likely to consolidate his position as he already enjoys a comfortable lead.
A trained ophthalmologist turned anti-Soviet resistance fighter, Abdullah is a former minister and quit the last election after complaining the poll was marred by massive ballot box stuffing. He had been due to contest a second round run-off against Karzai. Though this election was largely hailed as free and fair in the beginning, there have been serious charges of fraud later. In western Herat province, the local poll complaints commission threw out around 100,000 ballots, affecting all the major candidates. A member of the national watchdog said three other provinces - two in the east and one in the north - had also rejected large numbers of votes, though he declined to say how many.
Despite these allegations of fraud, Abdullah is more optimistic. In an interview with a news agency yesterday, he said fraud was a worry, but said the vote was much cleaner than the 2009 ballot. A candidate expressing confidence in the electoral process is a testament to its fairness, and Abdullah’s optimism could be emanating from his own confidence about getting elected in the final round.
Abdullah is well-experienced and qualified to lead Afghanistan in this period of huge challenges. The country needs a strong leader to defeat the Taliban and he had proven his caliber and courage during the election process. There were threats from Taliban, but he was undaunted and vowed to go all the way to realize the dreams of Afghans. Also, Abdullah will have another advantage over the incumbent Hamid Karzi – he won’t carry the tag of a US puppet, and will be able to function freely since he would be an elected president. Of course, Karzai is no longer considered as Washington’s stooge, especially after his prolonged standoff with the Obama administration over signing a security deal. But Karzai was first installed by Washington and therefore was hamstrung in carrying out his duties independently.
The first round of Afghanistan’s election has delivered a resounding defeat to the Taliban. It’s up to Abdullah to complete this mission once he is elected.