Counting starts in Afghan polls marred by deadly violence

Afghans began voting on Saturday in parliamentary elections which have been marred by chaotic organization and violence that has forced a postponement of the vote in the strategic southern province of Kandahar.
An election worker counting ballot papers at a polling station in Kabul yesterday. Initial Independent Election Commission figures showed that some three million voters turned up at 4,500 polling centres.
An election worker counting ballot papers at a polling station in Kabul yesterday. Initial Independent Election Commission figures showed that some three million voters turned up at 4,500 polling centres.PHOTO: REUTERS

KABUL • Afghan election workers have begun counting votes following a partial legislative ballot last Saturday tarnished by scores of deadly militant attacks, technical glitches and administrative chaos.

Nearly 170 people - civilians and security forces - were killed or wounded in election-related violence, official figures showed, and there are fears of more bloodshed when voting was set to resume yesterday in 401 polling centres.

"Inevitable" problems with biometric verification devices, which were introduced at the eleventh hour, as well as missing voter registration lists and lack of staffing, delayed or even prevented voting at those polling sites, the Independent Election Commission (IEC) told reporters.

According to initial IEC figures, around three million voters turned up at 4,500 polling centres. Elections have been postponed in Ghazni and Kandahar provinces.

That compares with nearly nine million registered voters, though many suspect a significant number of those were based on fake identification documents that fraudsters planned to use to stuff ballot boxes.

Most polling sites opened hours late after voter rolls were not delivered, or teachers employed to manage the voting process failed to show up following Taleban threats to attack the ballot.

There were multiple explosions across Kabul during the day.

Hours before the polls closed, a suicide bomber blew himself up inside a polling centre in the Afghan capital. Police said least 15 people were killed and 20 wounded.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the blast, but the Taleban said it had carried out more than 400 attacks on the "fake election" across the war-torn country.

 
 
 
 

Violence also disrupted voting in the northern city of Kunduz, where a senior health official told Agence France-Presse (AFP) that three people died and 39 were wounded after more than 20 rockets rained down on the provincial capital.

Eight explosions were recorded in the eastern province of Nangarhar, with two people killed and five wounded.

The Interior Ministry put the overall casualty toll - including civilians and security forces - at a slightly lower figure of 160, with 27 civilians killed and 100 wounded.

There were 193 attacks across the country, which the ministry said was half the number recorded on the day of the 2014 presidential election.

Despite threats of violence, voters waited for hours outside polling centres across the country. Some eventually gave up and went home without casting a ballot.

University student Mohammad Alem said he felt "frustrated" after spending more than three hours trying to vote in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif, only to discover his name was not on the registration list.

"There were also some problems with the biometric devices because they were already running out of charge," he added.

After waiting four hours at a polling centre, Mr Tabish Forugh tweeted that he had not seen "even remotely similar... chaos" at previous elections.

The parliamentary ballot is more than three years late and only the third since the fall of the Taleban in 2001.

Turnout was likely affected after the militant group issued several warnings in the days leading up to the polls, calling on candidates to withdraw from the race and for voters to stay home. Hundreds of people were killed or wounded in the months before the polls.

The killing of a powerful police chief in Kandahar last Thursday further eroded confidence in the ability of security forces to protect voters. Voting there has been delayed till Oct 27.

Despite the risks, President Ashraf Ghani urged "every Afghan, young and old, women and men" to exercise their right to vote, after casting his ballot in Kabul.

A woman dressed in a burqa leaving a polling centre in Mazar-i-Sharif told AFP she was worried about "security incidents", but decided to vote anyway. "We have to defy the violence," Ms Hafiza, 57, said.

At least 10 candidates out of more than 2,500 contesting the Lower House election were killed ahead of the polls.

The elections are seen as a crucial test for next year's presidential election and an important milestone before a United Nations meeting in Geneva next month where Afghanistan is under pressure to show progress on "democratic processes".

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 22, 2018, with the headline 'Counting starts in Afghan polls marred by deadly violence'. Print Edition | Subscribe