Afghans Defy Threats To Pick A President

Despite warnings from the Taliban that they would disrupt the poll with violence, voter turnout in Afghanistan has been good and the day mostly peaceful. NPR's Kelly McEvers speaks with reporter Sean Carberry about the presidential elections.

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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

It's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR West. I'm Kelly McEvers.

In Afghanistan today, millions of people across the country voted for a successor to President Hamid Karzai. This, despite rain and death threats from the Taliban. The militant group has long said it would stop at nothing to derail the election. In recent weeks, militants carried out a number of high-profile attacks against election officers and foreigners. But still, Afghans defied those threats and voted.

NPR's Sean Carberry joins us from Kabul. Sean, this election sets in motion what will be Afghanistan's first ever democratic transfer of power. What was it like out there today?

SEAN CARBERRY, BYLINE: Well, Afghans began lining up well in advance of the 7 a.m. opening of the polls. And the mood was cheerful, optimistic and, frankly, proud. Voters told us that they were coming out to vote yes to their future and vote no to the Taliban. And, in fact, turnout was so high that in many urban locations, polling centers ran out of ballots and election officials had to scramble to deliver more. They also ended up keeping polling places open an extra hour to ensure that everyone who turned out could vote. So huge enthusiasm from what we saw.

MCEVERS: And what about those threats from the Taliban? They were warning people that they were taking their lives into their own hands if they went out to vote?

CARBERRY: Yeah. It's not clear whether it was a lack of will on their part or a great job by Afghan security forces or a combination of both. But either way, violence today was really no more than what you see on any given day here, which is obviously more than you want to see. But really, there were some roadside bombs, some rockets fired and a couple of firefights.

From what we've heard, only four civilians were killed along with 16 police and soldiers, which, again, is kind of typical here. And this is far from the campaign of violence the Taliban were threatening and far less violent than past elections here.

MCEVERS: So then are people viewing this as a loss for the Taliban?

CARBERRY: Well, all week long, U.N. officials have been saying that given the Taliban's high-profile attacks and rhetoric in the last few weeks that they expected to see a lot of violence today. And if the Taliban didn't put up a fight, they'd essentially have egg on their face. So that's kind of the narrative that we're seeing at this point that this was a failure on their part.

MCEVERS: We should remind people, Afghanistan doesn't have the same kind of electoral technology as other places, so it will be a while before we get results. What's the process and the timeline?

CARBERRY: Well, counting began at polling places as soon as voting ended with election workers calling out the results as monitors from the campaigns and other organizations watched for evidence of fraud. It's expected that there will be several days before we have preliminary numbers. And then there's going to be a period of weeks for formal counting review adjudicating fraud.

And mid-May is when we should have the official results. But even then, it's not expected anyone's going to get more than 50 percent, so there'll be a runoff. And that will be held later in the summer. It might not be until the fall that we know who the next president is.

MCEVERS: OK. So what does that mean for the U.S. and Afghanistan, in particular the security agreement that now President Hamid Karzai has refused to sign to allow U.S. troops to stay beyond this year?

CARBERRY: It pushes the envelope if there's no president until that late in the year. All the candidates have said that they will sign the agreement and do it as quickly as they can. But U.S. and NATO have to plan for a complete withdrawal at this point since there is no agreement in place. And by the time a new president is able to sign it, it might be beyond the point of no return where too many troops and bases have been closed and moved out to be able to put together a mission to continue training Afghan forces.

MCEVERS: That's NPR's Sean Carberry. Sean, thanks so much.

CARBERRY: You're welcome, Kelly.

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