Afghan elections hailed a success after millions defy Taleban threats

Afghan men line up to cast their votes at a polling station in Lashkargah, capital of Helmand province, Afghanistan, Saturday, April 5, 2014. AP
Afghan and Western leaders have praised the turnout in Afghanistan\’s presidential election, describing the vote as a success.
More than 50 percent of registered voters – about seven million people – were estimated to have turned out on Saturday for local and presidential elections, which will usher the country\’s first democratic transfer of power.
Three million more people voted in this presidential election than in the previous one, in 2009.
"It is a proud day for this proud nation. We have proven that we are people of the ballot, not of the bullets," said Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, a presidential candidate. "This is a day of celebration."
The outgoing Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, said: "Today\’s election and massive participation of the people have taken Afghanistan a few steps forward to peace, stability and development."
Karzai said their participation in the polls "made our beloved country proud and successful."
Barack Obama, the US president, congratulated the Afghan people and said the event was a milestone as the Afghan people take full responsibility for their country. 
The turnout was so high Saturday for the country\’s first democratic transfer of power that some polling stations ran out of ballots.
Security was tight across the nation because Taliban militants threatened to disrupt the vote, but the polling seemed to be relatively free of violence. Numerous polling stations were closed because of the threat of violence.
The election commission has received 162 allegations of fraud after the poll marked by sporadic violence and reports of ballot-paper shortages.
The special U.N. representative to Afghanistan, Jan Kubis, praised Afghan voters for the turnout "despite the threats and intimidations" they had received from insurgents.
U.S. President Barack Obama issued a statement congratulating the millions of Afghans who voted in what he called the "historic" elections. He also paid tribute to Americans who have "sacrificed so much" to make the vote possible. Mr. Obama said the election was critical to securing Afghanistan\’s democratic future as well as continued international support.
Preliminary results are expected later this month, and a final tally is due May 14. A second round of voting will be needed if none of the eight candidates receives more than half the vote.
Three front-runners were among eight presidential candidates: Ashraf Ghani, a former finance minister and World Bank official; former foreign minister Zalmai Rassoul; and Abdullah Abdullah, also a former foreign minister.
Some 450 provincial government seats were at stake as well.
Karzai, who has been in power since the fall of the Taliban in late 2001, was constitutionally barred from running for a third term.
The lead-up to the election was fraught with violence. Taliban militants had threatened to kill anyone participating in the ballot and had already carried out a number of bomb and gun attacks.
Afghan officials say they deployed hundreds of thousands of security forces to protect the country\’s 12 million eligible voters.
U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said the voter turnout "demonstrates to the world that the Afghan people want to determine their own future."
NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rassmussen said every vote in the Afghan election was "a vote for democracy."
"I congratulate the millions of Afghan men and women from across the country who have cast their votes in presidential and provincial council elections with such an impressive turnout and enthusiasm,"  Rasmussen said in a statement.
The International Security Assistance Force congratulated Afghanistan on the election, saying "the Afghan people have chosen their future of progress and opportunity."
The U.N. Security Council commended the "participation and courage of the Afghan people to cast their ballot despite the threat and intimidation by the Taliban and other extremist and terrorist groups."
Source: Agencies
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