Karzai takes early lead in Afghan poll

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Hamid Karzai, the incumbent in Afghanistan?s presidential election, took an early lead on Friday as a preliminary tally began to take shape almost a week after the poll.

With 34,078 votes counted in five provinces - about 1 per cent of the expected total - Mr Karzai had 19,367 votes, or 57.9 per cent.

The vote count, which is being done by hand, is expected to take about two more weeks. Election officials have to retrieve ballot boxes from remote villages and then mix up the ballots so that nobody will know how a given village or district voted. This is intended to shield voters from possible persecution.

Yunus Qanooni, a former minister who was widely expected to be the runner-up in Saturday?s election, had 15.7 per cent of the votes counted and Abdul Rashid Dostum, a northern strongman, had 15.5 per cent. Next on the list was Masooda Jalal, the only female candidate in the race, who had 2.2 per cent.

The provinces for which partial results were available were Kabul, Logar and Wardak, in eastern Afghanistan, and Konduz and Takhar in the north. Only 1 per cent of the estimated votes cast in Kabul had been counted.

With 3.7m ballots checked in at counting centres, initial estimates showed 41 per cent of voters were women - the same proportion as registered. Men and women voted in separate polling stations, so it is simple to guage the male-female voter ratio.

An election day survey, carried out by US government-funded International Republican Institute, predicted that Mr Karzai would win with a 47-point lead over Mr Qanooni. The survey of 17,000 voters in 177 locations indicated that 86 per cent of Pashtun voters - Mr Karzai?s own ethnic group - had voted for him. Mr Karzai received the support of 40 per cent of Tajik voters interviewed, while Mr Qanooni, an ethnic Tajik, got 34 per cent.

The survey showed 8 per cent of women voted for Ms Jalal.

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