ISLAMABAD, Oct 20, 2018: Afghans voted on Saturday in parliamentary elections, the third since the Taliban’s fall in 2001 –with packed polling stations in capital Kabul, and overshadowed by chaotic organization, allegations of corruption and continued threats of violence after decades of war.
The Taliban had vowed to disrupt the “bogus elections”. But the Afghan government aims to send a message to the Taliban with this election: that despite the ongoing violent campaigns by the armed group, the government is functioning and that the Taliban will have to come to the negotiating table through a political process acceptable to all Afghans.
“People who are trying to help in holding this process successfully by providing security should be targeted and no stone should be left unturned for the prevention and failure [of the elections],” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in a statement last week.
But voters defied deadly attacks to cast ballots in large numbers in the war-torn nation’s long-awaited parliamentary elections, according to BBC and TOLO.
Nearly 46 Afghans were killed and 240 wounded, as blasts ripped through Afghanistan during election day. All in all, nearly 300 security incidents, including grenade explosions, took place across the country — a suicide bomber blew himself up inside a Kabul polling center, killing at least 15 people and wounding 20.
The country’s Independent Election Commission (IEC) said turnout overall had been extremely good, Tolo reports.
There were long waits at many polling stations. One Kabul voter, Mustafa, told AFP: “The queue is getting longer. They have to register our votes quickly – we are afraid a bomber or a blast may hit us.”
Meantime, balloting hours were extended — some into Sunday — at many polling stations across the country after technical glitches and lack of staff delayed operations, leading to long lines, the IEC said.
The results process will not be quick either. Preliminary results are not expected until 20 days after the election, on 10 November.
The polls are important for two reasons: it is seen as a rehearsal for the presidential vote scheduled for April, and an important milestone ahead of a UN meeting in Geneva in November where Afghanistan is under pressure to show progress on “democratic processes”.
The United Nations, which has been supporting the process, has urged Afghans to “use this opportunity to exercise their constitutional right to vote” and called for the election to take place in a safe and secure environment.
The polls, which were originally scheduled for early 2015, were last pushed to October 20 due to security fears and reforms in the voter registration process.
Officials were worried that violence will keep voters away from polling stations, particularly following the assassination of the police chief of Kandahar on Thursday.
Taliban militants had issued a series of statements telling people not to take part in what they consider a foreign-imposed process and warning election centers may be attacked.
Thousands of police and soldiers have been deployed across the country. Ten candidates have been assassinated and hundreds of people killed and wounded in election-related attacks.
Election authorities originally planned 7,355 polling centers but only 5,100 were open due to security concerns, according to the Independent Election Commission, overseeing the vote.
Voting has been postponed for at least a week in Kandahar province following the killing of police commander Gen Abdul Razeq.
It has also been delayed in Ghazni province, by arguments about the representation of different ethnic groups.
Widespread allegations of voter fraud present a challenge to the legitimacy of the process, seen by Afghanistan´s international partners as a vital step ahead of the more important presidential election next year.
Afghan politics is still poisoned by the aftermath of a disputed presidential vote in 2014 that forced the two main rival groupings to form an unstable partnership.
Both sides were accused of massive electoral cheating.
Political sleaze has put Afghanistan near the bottom of Transparency International´s world corruption index.
“Fraud, the abuse of power and corruption are going to be the main challenge, much more than security,” said Aziz Rafiee a political analyst and executive director of the Afghan Civil Society Forum.
Some 8.8 million voters have been registered but an unknown number, by some estimates as many as 50 percent, are believed to be fraudulently or incorrectly registered.
About 2,450 candidates are competing for 250 seats in the lower house. Under the constitution, parliament reviews and ratifies laws but has little real power.
In a bid to ensure the vote is fair, biometric voter registration technology has been rushed in at the last minute.
But many fear the untried technology, which was still being distributed to provincial voting centers as recently as Thursday, will add to the confusion without eliminating fraud.