| 20.08,09. 06:50 PM |
Afghan Elections Kick Off amid Tension
President Hamid Karzai cast his ballot in Kabul on Thursday at the start of a tense election expected to deliver him a second term and urged his fellow Afghans to flock to the polls.
Karzai voted in a boys' high school near his heavily fortified palace soon after polling stations opened in Afghanistan's second presidential election.
"I ask the Afghan people to come and vote so through their vote, Afghanistan will be more peaceful, more secure and a better place," said a smiling Karzai after casting his ballot for president and a provincial council.
"God willing this will be for the peace, for progress and for the well-being of Afghanistan."
Officials at polling stations across the country reported a slow start to voting. Widespread fears of Taliban attacks, following a litany of threats to derail polling day, could see Afghans assess the situation before they vote.
Asked whether he was worried about violence on polling day, Karzai said only "No."
On suggestions that his main challenger, former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah who has a strong powerbase in the north, could force him into a second round, he said: "One round will be in the interest of the nation."
A poll conducted by a U.S.-based organization and released in August said that 44 percent of Afghans were expected to vote for Karzai, below the outright majority that he needs to avoid a run-off.
The International Republican Institute group ranked Abdullah second in the survey with 26 percent, while independent candidate Ramazan Bashardost stood at 10 percent and ex-finance minister Ashraf Ghani at six percent.
Karzai, who has ruled Afghanistan since the 2001 US-led invasion toppled the Taliban regime, has seen his lead attributed in part to controversial deal-making with ethnic and tribal strongmen.
Voting alongside him were several key officials, including Foreign Minister Rangin Dadfar Spanta.(AFP)