Afghan polls close amid violence, low turnout across the country

Afghan polls close amid violence, low turnout across the country
A woman holds her child as she casts her vote at a polling station in Jalalabad on Sept. 28, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 28 September 2019

Afghan polls close amid violence, low turnout across the country

Afghan polls close amid violence, low turnout across the country
  • Heightened security across the country, despite far less casualties than in 2018 parliamentary elections
  • Polls closed amid reports of mismanagement and fears of election fraud

KABUL: Following months of uncertainty, polls for Afghanistan’s crucial presidential elections finally closed on Saturday, with sporadic violence erupting across the country causing less damage than expected, but deterring many voters from casting their ballot, election officials said.
In Kabul, the streets looked deserted in the initial hours of voting amid tight security, with shops mostly shuttered down due to the fear of Taliban attacks. The Taliban, who consider the polls and the Afghan civilian government as a sham of the 18-year, US-backed war in the country, claimed responsibility for dozens of the attacks on polling day, but residents said the violence was milder than during parliamentary polls held last year, where 56 people died and 379 were injured according to a UN report.
The Transparency Election Foundation of Afghanistan in a press release before the closure of polls said voter turnout was low, despite a ‘relatively’ safe environment.
“People’s participation in all provinces was reported to be poor, despite relatively safe environment from morning until end of the voting period,” it said.
In some sites, security forces outnumbered voters. Long before the start of the election process, the government had conceded that over 2,000 of the 7,000 voting sites would not open due to security concerns on voting day. The fears were not unfounded, as bombings and attacks in various part of the country affected the confidence of voters.
One voter died following multiple blasts that occurred near various voting sites in the eastern city of Jalalabad, while officials said 14 voters and one policeman were hurt in an explosion outside a mosque in southern Kandahar, which was used as a balloting site.
In a press conference, Hawa Alam Nuristani, chairperson of the government appointed Independent Election Commission (IEC) confirmed the incident, but expressed satisfaction that authorities had resumed facilities for other voters in Kandahar.
Several small blasts also happened close to other polling stations, but wounded only two people, official sources said.
Some 70,000 security forces were deployed across the country for the protection of the vote for which over 9.5 million people had registered. Armed security forces manned the polling sites, searching voters outside the stations where men and women stood in separate lines for their turn.
In some parts of the country, the movement of vehicles was completely banned.
“I cast my vote because it was the only way through which we can pick up a legitimate government,” Shah Mahmoud, 47, an Afghan civil servant told Arab News outside a voting site in central Kabul.
“I had fears, of course, about (an) attack, but I thought, I had to come out and vote. Some of my family members joined me while others did not because of security concerns,” he said.
Shabana, 28, a schoolteacher and female voter in Kabul, said that despite shortcomings in the government and the threat of attacks, voting was “the best way to solve the crisis in Afghanistan.”
But beyond concerns of safety, mismanagement was reported at several polling stations, some of which opened late.
Chaman Shah Etemadi, a senior member of the electoral complaints commission conceded that the delayed opening alongside a failure to dispatch voting materials had led to a less than smooth voting process.
According to Kabul residents, the biometric system malfunctioned in hundreds of stations while the rule of a compulsory sticker on national identity cards was not followed at some sites. 
IEC officials confirmed irregularities, and said the body had lost touch with hundreds of its centers across the country, but said this would not damage the legitimacy of the polls. 
The two front-runners, among the 13 Presidential candidates, are incumbent Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, both of who came to power under a US-brokered deal after deeply fraudulent polls in 2014.
Both leaders’ images have been tarnished with accusations of inefficiency, failure to deal with rising corruption, a poor economy, shortcomings in rule of law as well as in preventing Taliban gains and emergence of Daesh sympathizers in the country.
Frustrated with the two leaders’ performance, some Afghanis said they’d rather not risk their safety to vote on Saturday.
“Why (should) I risk my life...and waste my vote (to help) two...prominent figures who have failed to change the lives of the poor and bring security... come into power again?” shopkeeper Mohammad Darwesh, 35, told Arab News. 
Meanwhile, foreign diplomats, donors, election watch groups and ordinary Afghans have expressed concern about the occurrence of fraud, the second major threat to Saturday’s election.
“Post-election agreement can determine the impact of the elections,” Zabihullah Pakteen, an Afghan analyst told Arab News.
“A good outcome would be... there may another compromise between Ghani and Abdullah post-election, he said.
Initial poll results will become clear by Oct. 19th and final results are set for Nov. 7.