Karzai and Abdullah both claim victory in early vote results
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Both incumbent President Hamid Karzai (left) and challenger Abdullah Abdullah claimed victory in early results as vote counting ended following Wednesday's presidential poll. US President Barack Obama called the election an "important step forward".
With FRANCE 24 correspondent Leela Jacinto in Kabul, Afghanistan
With counting completed at polling stations across Afghanistan on Friday, the country’s two main political rivals both claimed outright victories in Thursday’s landmark elections.
A day after the polls, the head of Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s campaign team said initial results showed that Karzai had won and there would be no need for a run-off vote.
Under Afghan electoral law, a presidential candidate needs to win a 50 percent majority, failing which the two leading candidates must contest a run-off vote.
But the claim of an outright Karzai victory was immediately refuted by the campaign team of his rival, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah.
"This statement from Karzai’s office is not true,” Abdullah's campaign manager, Fazal Sancharaki, told FRANCE 24 shortly after the announcement.
According to Sancharaki, the results from his observers at polling stations suggested that Abdullah had won between 61 to 62 percent of the vote, while Karzai had won around 32 percent.
A former Afghan foreign minister, Abdullah is the closest rival to the frontrunner, Karzai, and has conducted a spirited campaign across the country in the run-up to the August 20 poll.
US President Barack Obama called the elections an "important step forward" for the war-torn country and promised that America would back the new government.
"We look forward to renewing our partnership with the Afghan people as they move ahead under a new government", Obama said, adding that "we've seen acts of violence and intimidation by the Taliban and there may be more in the days to come".
‘Lots of figures floating around’
With all eyes set on the results of Thursday’s vote, which the international community hopes could mark the turning point in effort to stabilise the country, the rival claims appeared to set the stage for a hotly contested post-election period.
Analysts say the initial vote count at the polling stations, which was completed by Friday morning, will be forwarded to regional and provincial centres where they are likely to be checked before initial results are announced.
Official results are expected toward mid-September.
Afghan electoral officials say the initial results will be released shortly, but they have warned against predicting the outcome.
“There are lots of figures floating around and they are all extremely anecdotal,” said Martine van Bijlert, co-director of the Afghanistan Analysts Network.
A triumph of democratic will
Millions of Afghans defied Taliban threats to vote in the country’s presidential as well as provincial council elections, which the international community has hailed as a triumph of the democratic will of the Afghan population.
The poll was marred by sporadic incidents of violence, especially in the insurgent-hit southern and south-eastern provinces in which at least 26 people were killed. Two British soldiers were killed in an explosion on election day in Helmand province. But there were no major Taliban attacks.
All eyes on ballot boxes from troubled regions
Amid widespread concerns over voter irregularities and fraud, Afghan electoral officials said complaints were being referred to the country’s Electoral Complaints Commission.
While the official voter turnout has not been released, questions remained about whether the low turnout might affect the legitimacy of the vote. Early accounts put the total far below the 70 percent who voted in the 2004 presidential poll.
The precarious security situation in parts of the country has also raised concerns. According to the head of the country’s electoral commission, about five percent of the country’s 6,519 polling centres in Taliban-controlled districts remained closed on Thursday.
Analysts say the focus in the next few days will rest on the results from some of the more dangerous areas, where voter turnout was low.
“The interesting things to see is whether the boxes return full or not,” said van Bijlert. “If there are indications that the insecure areas still have full boxes, that would raise questions of ballot stuffing irregularities.”
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