House chairman heralds ‘relatively peaceful’ Afghanistan election

The chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Saturday praised the initial phase of Afghanistan’s presidential election, saying it offers the nation a “fresh start” after more than a decade under the rule of Hamid Karzai.

Despite scattered reports of mortar fire near polling places, turnout appeared strong for the contest marking Afghanistan’s first Deomcratic transfer of power.

“For the first time in its modern history, Afghans are voting for a presidential successor, Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.) said in a statement issued Saturday afternoon.

“The election is on time, relatively peaceful, and significantly, has Afghan institutions in the lead,” Royce said. “In the face of Taliban threats, Afghans, many of them young people and women, walked many miles to vote.”

Frontrunners Abdullah Abdullah, Ashraf Ghani and Zalmay Rassoul top a field of eleven candidates seeking to succeed Karzai, who was elected in 2011 following the collapse of Taliban control.

Afghanistan’s constitution prevents Karzai from seeking another term.

Royce, an outspoken critic of Karzai expressed optimism at the prospect of new leadership in a country he said remains plagued by “systematic corruption.”

“Most importantly, the election offers the chance for a fresh start with a new president,” he said. “The Karzai government was a case study in how not to win international support.  The new Afghan leaders must work to fight government corruption, counter Taliban influence, and engage with the U.S. and other nations committed to a stable Afghanistan.”

Observers say it is unlikely that any candidate will secure more than 50 percent of the vote – the threshold needed to avoid a run-off expected in June.

If there is no clear winner after the first round of voting, a new president would likely take office some time late in August.