Afghan Polls Open as Race Tightens

In test of country's stability, Karzai faces Taliban violence, 34 challengers
By Jane Yager,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 20, 2009 1:53 AM CDT
Afghan presidential candidate and current President Hamid Karzai shows his ink-stained finger after voting in the presidential election at a polling station in Kabul, Afghanistan, Aug. 20, 2009.    (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)
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(Newser) – As polls open in Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai's chances of claiming enough of the vote to avoid a runoff no longer look like a sure thing, the New York Times reports. Voter intimidation by the Taliban, a surge in popularity by one of Karzai's opponents, and limited election monitoring could conspire to keep Karzai from gaining the necessary 50% in today's election, which is seen as a critical test of the country's stability.

Unlike in 2004, no international observers, only Afghans, will watch the polls, and limited resources mean some vulnerable districts will go without any monitoring at all. Karzai says he hopes the Taliban won't follow through on threats of violence, but rockets already injured four in Kandahar ahead of the polls opening today. Abdullah Abdullah, one of the whopping 34 challengers Karzai faces, has stirred up significant support in recent weeks and has the best chance of forcing a runoff.