Millions of Afghans voted on Saturday, but it's still going to be weeks, and quite possibly months, before they learn who the new president will be.
"We don't know who has won," says Thijs Berman, head of the EU Election Assessment Team. "We know that the Taliban has lost."
Election officials counted votes at local polling places immediately after they closed. Then they posted a public copy of the results on the outside of each polling center, and sent the original tally sheet and ballots to the provincial capitals.
Trucks have begun arriving at the Independent Election Commission compound in the capital, Kabul, depositing giant Tupperware-style containers full of ballots.
Noor Mohammad Noor, the electoral commission spokesman, says it will take another eight days for all the materials to arrive in Kabul. This still gives the Taliban an opportunity to disrupt the outcome.
On Sunday, an election truck struck a roadside bomb. Two people in the truck, along with three policemen in the convoy, were killed, and 3,500 ballots were destroyed, including the original result sheets.
The Electoral Complaints Commission will spend a month adjudicating more than 150 allegations of fraud or wrongdoing by the presidential candidates. In addition, they will review challenges to the preliminary count, says Noor.
Preliminary results are expected on April 24, Noor says, with final, certified results set for May 14.
However, none of the eight candidates is expected to get 50 percent of the vote, which would necessitate a runoff, probably in June, between the top two candidates.
Then the laborious counting will start all over again.
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
In Afghanistan, the presidential election this past Saturday drew voters in surprisingly large numbers despite Taliban violence. NPR's Sean Carberry in Kabul says ballots are being trucked in from the polls and there could still be another round of voting.
(SOUNDBITE OF CROWD)
SEAN CARBERRY, BYLINE: It was a cold and rainy Saturday morning, and security checkpoints shackled Kabul. Yet, Afghan men and women surpassed expectations and swarmed to polling places, like this one at the Zarghouna High School.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Foreign language spoken)
CARBERRY: Just an hour and a half after the polls opened, the chief election official at this polling center, Sultan Zala, worried they were running out of ballots. In fact, election officials had to keep the polls open an extra hour because many polling stations across the country needed additional ballots.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Foreign language spoken)
CARBERRY: Initial estimates are that at least seven million Afghans, nearly double the last election's turnout, braved Taliban death threats and inclement weather to, as one woman who was afraid to give her name says, vote for the future of Afghanistan. So far, election monitors are fearlessly upbeat.
THIJS BERMAN: We don't know who has won. We know that the Taliban has lost.
CARBERRY: Thijs Berman is the head of the European Union Election Assessment Team. He and others point out that Taliban violence was far below expectations.
BERMAN: Afghan voters have shown a remarkable determination to choose their leadership in freedom by voting peacefully in unexpectedly high numbers.
CARBERRY: Berman cautions that it's too early to declare the election a complete success. Complaints of fraud have poured in, and Taliban violence did prevent many in remote areas of the country from voting.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (Foreign language spoken)
CARBERRY: Election officials counted the votes of those who could make it to polling places immediately after they closed. Then they posted a public copy of the results on the outside of each polling center and sent the sealed ballot boxes to the provincial capitals.
(SOUNDBITE OF TRUCKS)
CARBERRY: Dozens of trucks are streaming in and out of a shiny metal warehouse here at a back corner of the Independent Election Commission compound in Kabul. These trucks are offloading giant Tupperware containers full of ballots from this weekend's elections.
RODWAL: All of them are sealed.
CARBERRY: Rodwal, who gives only one name, is the head election official for Kabul. He says these boxes will only be opened if there's a challenge of the results. Across the compound at the data center, workers are logging in tamper-proof bags containing the original counting sheets from all the polling places in the city. The sheets will be scanned and compiled, the first time an electronic device enters the process.
NOOR MOHAMMAD NOOR: We're trying to announce the preliminary result on the 24th of April.
CARBERRY: Noor Mohammad Noor, the electoral commission spokesman, says it will take another eight days for all the results sheets to arrive in Kabul. This still gives the Taliban an opportunity to disrupt the outcome. Yesterday, an election truck struck a roadside bomb, killing the drivers and destroying 3,500 ballots and original results sheets. Meanwhile, the Electoral Complaints Commission will spend a month adjudicating hundreds of allegations of fraud or wrongdoing, says Noor.
NOOR: On the 14th of May, we will announce the certified result.
CARBERRY: But if none of the eight candidates gets more than 50 percent, there will be a runoff between the top two. That could mean Afghanistan won't know who its next president is until the fall. Sean Carberry, NPR News, Kabul.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.