Doubts raised over Afghan election security

Afghan women arrive at a voter registration center, to register for the upcoming parliamentary and district council elections, in Kabul. The government’s inability to guard centers just outside Kabul has raised questions about its ability to protect districts in remote and volatile provinces. (Reuters)
Updated 17 May 2018
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Doubts raised over Afghan election security

  • The elections have been delayed for more than three years due to lack of planning by the government, which is mired in an internal power struggle and still disagrees on what mechanism is needed for the elections process.
  • The internal bickering has enabled the Taliban to escalate its attacks despite the US increasing the number of airstrikes and sending more troops to reverse gains by the Taliban and Daesh.

KABUL: The general sighs after hearing from his subordinate by phone that there are not enough security forces to protect voter registration centers in two areas outside Kabul.

The subordinate suggests that election workers take home documents and paperwork at night and bring them back during the day.

The general, who has thousands of men under his command in Kabul, disagrees. He says leaving the centers unguarded at night could allow people to plant bombs or mines and remotely detonate them when officials are registering voters for the Oct. 20 parliamentary and provincial council elections.

He advises his subordinate to either have local civilians guard the offices, or tell the election commission to offer a solution to the threat of attacks. “See if either of the two options can work. We’re too overstretched already,” the general said.

The elections have been delayed for more than three years due to lack of planning by the National Unity Government (NUG), which is mired in an internal power struggle and still disagrees on what mechanism is needed for the elections process.

The NUG’s inability to guard centers just outside Kabul has raised questions about its ability to protect districts in remote and volatile provinces.

The internal bickering has enabled the Taliban to escalate its attacks despite the US increasing the number of airstrikes and sending more troops to reverse gains by the Taliban and Daesh.

Rejecting a peace offer by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, the Taliban last month announced its traditional spring offensive.

It has since conducted hundreds of anti-government raids, killing several hundred troops and seizing weapons and vehicles.

The new US strategy “created expectations among Afghans that the Taliban would be defeated or weakened,” Mohammed Nateqi, an analyst and former diplomat, told Arab News.

“But by launching the spring offensive, the Taliban showed that it has the upper hand. It can’t overthrow the system, but its attacks and tactics have had an impact as people are becoming increasingly disappointed with the NUG and foreign troops.”

Unless the tide turns against the Taliban, elections cannot be held, and if they take place, they will not be inclusive or enjoy legitimacy, he said.

But Defense Ministry spokesman Mohammed Radmanesh said: “We are certain that the elections will be held on time as we have plenty of time ahead.”

He added: “We can defeat the enemy and foil their attacks. We need patience. People need to be calm and continue daily life as normal.”


Ireland referendum could lift strict ban on abortion

A woman carries a placard as Ireland holds a referendum on liberalising abortion laws, in Dublin, Ireland, on Friday. (REUTERS)
Updated 26 May 2018
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Ireland referendum could lift strict ban on abortion

  • Exit polls says 68 percent of voters back change
  • The country's leaders support a "yes," an outcome that would repeal a 1983 constitutional amendment

DUBLIN: Ireland’s referendum Friday represented more than a vote on whether to end the country’s strict abortion ban. It was a battle for the very soul of a traditionally conservative Roman Catholic nation that has seen a wave of liberalization in recent years.
An Irish Times exit poll released Friday night projected a landslide victory for those who want to loosen abortion laws, but official results are not expected until Saturday afternoon.
The country’s leaders support a “yes,” an outcome that would repeal a 1983 constitutional amendment requiring authorities to treat a fetus and its mother as equals under the law. They called it a once-in-a-generation opportunity to liberalize some of Europe’s strictest abortion rules.
Voters went to the polls after a campaign that aroused deep emotions on both sides. For advocates of repeal, a “yes” vote would be a landmark in Irish women’s fight for equality and the right to control their own bodies. For opponents, it would be a betrayal of Ireland’s commitment to protect the unborn.
The vote also is a key indicator of Ireland’s trajectory, three years after the country voted to allow same-sex marriages and a year after its first openly gay prime minister took office.
The newspaper exit poll indicated overwhelming support for change. The survey by pollster Ipsos-MRBI says 68 percent of voters backed repeal of the ban and 32 percent opposed it. The pollster says it interviewed some 4,000 people and the survey had a margin of error of plus or minus 1.5 percentage points. The poll is only a prediction.
Theresa Sweeney, a repeal supporter, was one of the first to arrive at a church polling station in Dublin.
“I feel like I’ve waited all of my adult life to have a say on this,” she said.
Emma Leahy said her “yes” vote comes from her firm belief that everyone should be able to make their own choice when it comes to abortion.
“For Ireland, it’s hope for the future,” she said of the referendum. “Whether you agree or disagree, it shouldn’t be the government or anyone else making that decision.”
Vera Rooney voted against repeal.
“It is a hard decision but I just feel I don’t have the right to take life,” she said. “I think life is sacred and for that reason I had to vote no.”
The referendum will decide whether the eighth amendment of the constitution is repealed or stays in place.
The amendment requires authorities to equally protect the right to life of a mother and that of a fetus, from the moment of conception. That effectively bans all abortions in Ireland, except in cases when the woman’s life is at risk. Having an illegal abortion is punishable by up to 14 years in prison, and several thousand Irish women travel each year to get abortions in neighboring Britain.
If citizens vote in favor of repeal, new abortion laws will then be discussed in parliament. The government proposes that terminations be allowed during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. Later abortions would be allowed in special cases.
Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, a doctor, voted in favor of repeal.
“Not taking anything for granted of course, but quietly confident,” he said, adding that the upside of a sunny day in Ireland is that people come out to vote.
Thousands of Irish people abroad traveled home to take part in the historic referendum, and supporters of repeal gathered at Dublin Airport to give arrivals an ecstatic welcome.
Some activists held a placard reading “Thank you for making the journey so other women don’t have to” — a reference to the way Irish women seeking abortions have had to leave the country to obtain them.
Tara Flynn, who 11 years ago flew to the Netherlands for an abortion, said she planned to vote “yes” to make sure future generations of women don’t endure what she did, with feelings of isolation and shame.
She said her vote would be one for solidarity and compassion, “a vote to say, I don’t send you away anymore.”
Campaigning was not allowed Friday, but Dublin was still filled with signs and banners urging citizens to vote “yes” or “no.” Many of the anti-abortion signs showed photographs of fetuses.
Voting has already taken place on Ireland’s remote islands so that paper ballots can be taken to the mainland and counted in time.
Letters to the editor published Friday in the Irish Independent newspaper contained several emotional arguments urging voters to reject the repeal movement.
“If we vote ‘yes’ every unborn, wanted and unwanted, will have zero rights,” wrote Frances Kelleher, from Killarney. “I do not believe the smart people of Ireland want this unrestricted, abortion-on-demand bill.”