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Afghans Brave Violence to Vote for President

Millions of Afghans braved threats of Taliban attacks on polling stations and retaliation against voters to go to the polls Thursday.  The legitimacy of the election is beholden to an acceptable turnout and the reported level of wholesale vote-buying, phantom voters and other acts of electoral corruption.  Voting is taking place amid scattered explosions in the capital and other parts of the country.

Violence from anti-government elements was anticipated, even expected.

So, for the country's 17 million registered voters, the biggest Election Day choice may have been whether to exercise their democratic right and risk their lives or play it safe and stay home.

Amir Khan, voting at a Kabul mosque, says the Taliban threats to disrupt the election and chop off fingers of voters did not deter him.

Khan says he is not at all fearful, because the government has good control of security and thus he has no reason to fear the Taliban.

At some Kabul polling stations, few people were seen in line.  In some rural areas, under the control of the insurgents, the voting centers could not open - that despite the massive security effort involving hundreds of thousands of Afghan soldiers and police, supported by tens of thousands of foreign troops

Also on hand - thousands of monitors and observers from various domestic and international organizations.

Former U.S. Congressman Jim Moody toured polling places in Kabul as an observer for Democracy International. He tells VOA News what he saw appeared "very smooth and orderly."

"No election is perfect, including in the United States.  We've had our problems," said Moody.  "Given the circumstances that this country is still at war, there's tremendous internal conflict, I think we really have to congratulate the Afghan people and the Afghan authorities."   

After their election identity card is checked and their fingers are inked, voters are given a multi-page ballot.  At the top of it,  the many selections for president, including the incumbent Hamid Karzai.  As most Afghans cannot read, there are party symbols and photographs of the candidates to help voters find their choice.

Student Ramin Karimi says he made his decision, based on which candidate can bring peace to the country.

Karimi tells VOA he wants a president who will end war, do a good job and rescue Afghanistan from its present condition.

The logistical challenges of everyday life here are evident in the running of this election.  Pack animals were the only way to get ballots to some remote locations.  Army helicopters were used to drop materials at other.  Satellite telephones are being used in some villages to relay vote totals back to the capital.

There is little likelihood of anyone declaring the election "free and fair" by the standards of a mature Western democracy. The United Nations and others are hoping the Afghan and international observer groups will merely declare a "credible" election for a fledgling Third World democracy battling an insurgency and that the results will be accepted by the major participants. 

The Taliban have already made clear their verdict - voting "No" to democracy through their acts of intimidation and violence.

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