As most foreign troops leave by the end of 2014, whoever takes
over from Karzai will inherit a troubled country with an
increasingly violent Taliban insurgency and an economy crippled by
corruption and the weak rule of law.
The vote pits former anti-Taliban fighter Abdullah Abdullah against
ex-World Bank economist Ashraf Ghani after neither secured the 50
percent majority needed to win outright in the first round on April
There were far fewer incidents of violence than had initially been
"Based on what I saw, it's been a very calm election day with
vigilant security," Thijs Berman, the chief observer of the EU
Election assessment team in Afghanistan, told Reuters after visting
some polling stations.
About 12 million voters are eligible to cast ballots at 6,365
polling centres scattered across Afghanistan, from windswept deserts
on the Iranian border to the rugged Hindu Kush mountains, before
polls close at 1130 GMT, with preliminary results due on July 2.
Voters were not put off by a couple of rockets landing in the
capital and other minor explosions, in which one person was reported
injured. Long queues had snaked out of polling centres after voting
began at 7 a.m. (0230 GMT).
By mid-day the Taliban had failed to pull off any major attacks in
the capital, Kabul, or key provinces, but rocket attacks were also
reported in eastern Ghazni province.
Two tribal elders were killed when they defied a Taliban warning in
Kunar province not to participate in the elections, triggering a gun
battle between the villagers and insurgents, provincial officials
said. Four rockets landed in the provincial capital, but no
casualties were reported.
"As in the first round, I saw very determined voters," Berman added.
"Afghanistan needs a reliable outcome accepted by all stakeholders
that would guarantee the peaceful transition from one president to
The election process has been fraught with accusations of fraud by
both candidates and many fear a close outcome will make it less
likely the loser will accept defeat, possibly dragging Afghanistan
into a risky, protracted stand-off over the vote.
"We ask everyone to prevent and discourage people from fraud and
vote-rigging so that we can have a transparent, free and fair
election," Ghani said after casting his vote in West Kabul.
People have turned out in large numbers, his rival, Abdullah, told
reporters. "Security is a concern but the people of Afghanistan have
defied security threats so far," he said.
The Taliban are a formidable obstacle to peaceful elections. The
insurgents, now at the height of their summer offensive, have warned
people not to vote in an election they have condemned as a
Abdullah survived an assassination attempt on June 6, when two bombs
exploded outside a Kabul hotel where he had just held a rally.
Twelve people were killed.
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The high turnout of nearly 60 percent in the first round was a major
defeat for the Taliban but this time observers expect fewer than 5
million voters, discouraged by security concerns.
"This time, the
Taliban will try to compensate for what they couldn't achieve in the
first round," Defence Ministry spokesman General Zahir Azimi said
before the vote.
Officials in Kabul are haunted by the prospect of a close outcome
that could provide the loser and his supporters an excuse to reject
defeat, and, in the worst scenario, propel the country back into war
along ethnic lines.
Both candidates set the stage for complaints, repeatedly accusing
electoral organisers of incompetence and bias.
The United Nations has urged candidates not to attack the
organisers, to safeguard the process.
"There's a short-term gain only in trying to undermine or bully the
institutions at the expense of their legitimacy," said United
Nations deputy chief Nicholas Haysom.
"It's going to be the legitimacy of the elections which will give
legitimacy to the new head."
Abdullah polled 14 percentage points ahead of Ghani in the first
round with 45 percent of the vote, but Ghani, who is ethnic Pashtun,
stands to gain a portion of the Pashtun vote that was splintered in
the first round.
Pashtuns are Afghanistan's biggest ethnic group, making up about 45
percent of the population. While Abdullah is partly Pashtun, he is
identified more with the ethnic Tajik minority.
The chances of an equal split between candidates are hard to gauge
because there are few reliable polls. ACSOR research centre, asking
respondents to choose between Abdullah and Ghani, predicted a 50:50
split before the first round.
(Additional reporting by Mirwais Harooni and Jessica Donati; Writing
by Jessica Donati; Editing by Maria Golovnina, Robert Birsel and
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