Votes being tallied in Afghan election

(U-WIRE) WASHINGTON – Votes continue to be tallied in this month’s landmark presidential election in Afghanistan. Millions of Afghans turned out amid threats and violence to the 4,800 polling sites to cast their vote for president on Oct. 9. Voters waited in lines, stretching two miles long, for up to four hours in order to make their voice heard.

A poll conducted by the Asia Foundation found that 81 percent of Afghans planned to vote and 77 percent felt that the elections would “make a difference.”

Under the Taliban, just a few years ago, women were oppressed and had little rights. Women were forbidden to work outside the homes, girls were deprived an education, and some women prohibited from even walking outside without a male escort. Election day was a monumental step for the country as it gave women the right to vote alongside men. Many women turned out to the polling stations.

“Empowered women are vital to democracy,” said First Lady Laura Bush in a speech Tuesday at the International Lion of Judah Conference in Washington. “I’m proud that the women of Afghanistan are writing an exciting new chapter in their long struggle.”

However, 87 percent of the Afghans surveyed in the Asia Foundation poll said that women would need their husbands’ permission to vote and 18 percent of men said that they would not allow their wives to vote at all. This notion was even more pronounced in the South and Northwest regions of Afghanistan.

By Tuesday, a quarter of the votes had been tallied with just over 60 percent going to Interim President, Hamid Karzai. His closest challenger is Yunus Qanooni, former Education Minister who currently has 18.3 percent of the vote. The winner isn’t expected to be declared until Oct. 31 but it should be known by the end of the week if a runoff will be needed and who the projected winner is.

The election is not without controversy. Qanooni has said he has evidence of ballot boxes being stuffed with votes for Karzai in four different provinces. Karzai’s opponents also claim that polling station staff marked voters’ hands with washable ink allowing them to vote multiple times. The government has dismissed the accusation but the U.N. has appointed panel of three foreign experts to investigate these fraud allegations.

“If his excellency Mr. Karzai, my old friend, succeeds in a fair and transparent election, I will congratulate him and cooperate with him,” Qanooni said Monday. “But if the result is fraudulent, the legitimacy of this election will be in question.”

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