Hundreds of Afghan polling centres open for second day of voting

Afghan men stand in line to cast their votes outside a polling centre in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Oct 20, 2018.
Afghan men stand in line to cast their votes outside a polling centre in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Oct 20, 2018.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

KABUL (AFP) – Hundreds of Afghan polling centres opened on Sunday (Oct 21) for a second day of voting in a chaotic legislative election marred by deadly violence and technical glitches that have eroded its credibility.

Around three million people defied the threat of militant attacks to cast their ballot in the long-delayed poll on Saturday, official figures showed, but many polling sites opened several hours late or not at all.

 The Independent Election Commission (IEC), which has been lambasted for its chaotic organisation of the vote that is more three years late, said 401 polling centres would open Sunday until 5pm (8.30pm Singapore).

“There was disorder, slowness, shortcomings and mismanagement by the IEC,” said Ali Reza Rohani, a spokesman for the Electoral Complaints Commission.

A Western official said the ballot was a “victory for the Afghan people who were not deterred” by the biometric machines, administrative incompetence and Taliban threats.

Nearly 170 people – civilians and security forces – were killed or wounded in scores of election-related attacks across the country, official figures showed.

A suicide bomber blew himself up inside a voting centre in Kabul, killing at least 15 people and wounding 20, while more than 70 rockets rained down on election sites elsewhere.

Nearly nine million voters registered for the parliamentary election, the third since the fall of the Taliban in 2001.

But many suspect a significant number of those were based on fake identification documents that fraudsters planned to use to stuff ballot boxes.

 
 
 
 

 Missing or incomplete voter registration lists, problems with biometric verification devices that were being used for the first time, and absent or poorly trained election staff were among a litany of setbacks.

Turnout also was likely affected after the Taliban issued several warnings in the days leading up to the poll demanding candidates withdraw from the race and for voters  to  stay home.

The militant group on Saturday claimed it carried out more than 400 attacks on the “fake election”.

‘IMPORTANT MILESTONE’ 

Official observers described disorder and chaos at polling centres where election workers did not know how to use biometric devices that the IEC had rolled out at the eleventh hour and said were required for votes to be counted.

Many voters who had registered their names months ago were not on the roll, and the Taliban commandeered some polling centres and refused to let people cast their ballots.

There are concerns that extending voting by a day in 16 provinces, including Kabul, “provides opportunity for fraud and misuse”, Election and Transparency Watch Organisation of Afghanistan said.

Registration lists “have been way off and with voting today nobody knows where people vote and how many voted”, the Western official said.

Elections have been delayed in Ghazni and Kandahar provinces. Kandahar voters will go to the polls on Oct 27 after the assassination of a powerful police chief on Thursday prompted officials to postpone the ballot.

Afghan voters and candidates took to social media to vent their frustration at the disorganised process.

“Shame on the IEC,” Hosai Mangal wrote on the IEC’s official Facebook page.

“There was no order at all, I could not find my name at the polling centre where I registered.” Another angry voter wrote: “The worst elections ever.”

Despite the chaos, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (Unama), which has spearheaded international efforts to advise the IEC, said the election was “an important milestone in Afghanistan’s transition to self-reliance”.

Unama urged observers, political parties, candidates and voters to play a “constructive role in the days ahead to safeguard the integrity of the electoral process as votes are tallied”.