KABUL, Afghanistan -- More than two weeks after Afghanistan's first presidential election, vote counting wrapped up yesterday and interim leader Hamid Karzai emerged with a resounding victory.
With his inauguration to a five-year term a month away, the US-backed Karzai is under pressure to ditch his coalition with powerful warlords and tackle a booming narcotics industry that has become a major economic force in one of the world's poorest nations.
Officials declared the vote count complete yesterday afternoon, giving some 1,500 weary staff at eight counting centers a well-earned rest in the middle of the Islamic fasting month of Ramadan. Investigators were still examining about 100 suspect ballot boxes, but the election's chief technical officer said the count was effectively ''over and done."
''It's just these last dribs and drabs to be approved," David Avery said. ''It's really nothing that can affect the outcome."
Showing 98.4 percent of the votes counted, the website of the UN-Afghan Election Commission said Karzai had 55.5 percent of the votes, 39 percentage points ahead of his closest rival, former education minister Yunus Qanooni.
An estimated 8.2 million ballots were cast in the historic vote Oct. 9, a turnout that US and Afghan officials hailed as a nail in the coffin of the former ruling Taliban, whose threats to disrupt the election proved hollow.
Karzai, 47, a member of the Pashtun community, the largest ethnic group in this diverse and often divided country, portrayed himself as the best candidate to weld a unified Afghanistan.
He also promised to double the income of Afghans and pursue a reformist agenda that can finally begin to deliver basic services such as health and education to people impoverished by a quarter-century of fighting.
So far, the country's reemergence -- cities such as Kabul and Kandahar are in the grip of a real estate boom -- appears to be founded more on lucrative drug exports than the legal economy.
Under pressure from the United States, Karzai is expected to announce a crackdown on refiners and traffickers who use Afghan opium poppies to supply most of the world's heroin.
''His mind is made up to do something, finally," a Western official who advises the Afghan government on counternarcotics policy said on condition of anonymity. ''They know that this government will not survive if they don't take action."
Karzai must deal with the opium traffickers at the same time he grapples with regional leaders who control much of the country with the help of private militias that have so far escaped a UN-sponsored disarmament drive.
Election officials said formal confirmation of Karzai's victory could come by the weekend, when investigations into irregularities were expected to be complete and the election ruled ''free and fair."