Multiple deadly attacks and administrative chaos marred Afghanistan’s long-delayed parliamentary elections, but large numbers of voters have still braved the threats and long queues to cast their ballots.
There was bloodshed around the country, with nearly 200 attacks near polling stations or security checkpoints, at least 28 people killed and scores more injured, the interior minister, Wais Barmak, said. Perhaps the biggest blast in Kabul, late in the day, killed at least 15.
But even at polling stations spared violence, there were widespread problems, from faulty voting registers and difficulties with new equipment for biometric ID checks, to officials who failed to show up for the 7am opening of polls and attempts to coerce voters.
“People have been lining up to vote since 5am or 6am, but the employees of the election commission didn’t arrive until after 8am,” said Tawab Faizi, a volunteer monitoring the vote in the western city of Herat.
War took a heavy toll on her family. Now she is fighting … for Afghan democracy
“Many people are angry here, they queued for two or three hours, but they were told that they cannot vote because their names are not on the list. There are many irregularities.”
The problems raised the prospects of the election – and the security worries that come with it – dragging on far beyond Saturday. The government said any voting stations that opened late would stay open into the evening, and those that did not open their doors until after 1pm would open again on Sunday.
The vote came at a critical time for Afghanistan, with , the Taliban than at any time since 2001, and the government slowing down before presidential polls next year.
This parliamentary vote is widely seen as a practice run for that high-stakes contest for power, making the security and administrative problems particularly worrying.
Voters said they had few illusions about the state of Afghanistan’s fragile democracy, which is riddled with corruption and hampered by violence, but still saw elections as their best hope of change at a time of extreme economic and security pressures.
“In today’s there is no good choice, we can only select between bad and worse. I and some other women voted for bad candidates to prevent the worse candidates winning,” said Faiza Ibrahimi, a radio presenter.
“I went to a polling station at 9am and waited for more than two hours to vote, but I am not angry about this, I am happy because I can exercise my right to vote. A fair election is the only way to get out of this situation in Afghanistan.”
A large number of the candidates are young and making their first run for political office, and have campaigned on a promise of change in a body widely seen as fraud-ridden and ineffective.
“The man who I want to vote for is a young and educated person, I want to support him for two reasons,” said Jawad Mohammadi, 35, a resident of Herat, who queued up early to vote, hoping to avoid any violence. “Firstly, I don’t want the older candidates to win because most of them are involved in Afghanistan’s violent past. And secondly, I want my generation to take power.”
Turnout and results may be unclear for a week or longer, as results are collected from remote areas and counted at secure centres. Nearly 9 million people registered to vote, but many of them are considered fraudulent or incorrect registrations.
The vote was already several years overdue and, despite months of preparation, voting was suspended in around a third of polling stations. Two entire provinces did not hold elections. Kandahar, the political and cultural heart of the south, after much of the provincial leadership were killed or injured in a devastating insider attack on the eve of the vote. The authorities had earlier announced that there would be no vote in the eastern city of Ghazni.
Some 70,000 troops and police officers have been deployed to protect the elections, which the Taliban have condemned and sworn to disrupt. Before the voting began, 10 candidates were killed, and hundreds of civilians were injured or lost their lives at election-related events.
There were attacks nationwide on voting day from the far-eastern Nuristan province to central Ghor and western Farah, as well as in the capital. They included bomb blasts, rocket and mortar attacks, and in eastern Kunar fighters fired artillery on a road to polling stations.
Security fears kept many away from the polls. “I had registered myself in Herat and planned to vote here, but my family told me not to,” said Rohulla Alizada, 27, a manager at a marketing company. “They said for God’s sake, please don’t go to vote, don’t go to a polling station and if possible don’t go out of your home today, it’s dangerous.”
Election workers turned up late in many areas and struggled to use biometric equipment. The head of the Independent Election Commission went on television to plead with voters for patience, saying that many teachers who had been trained in the new system didn’t show up, the Associated Press reported. The Taliban had directly warned teachers and students to stay away from polls, but it was not clear if the two were related.
“There was a big problem with the biometric system in many polling stations,” said Zabiullah Behjat, 25, who was working as a poll observer in Kabul. “When people put their fingers on the system, [the] system didn’t work … Some election commission employees didn’t even know how to turn the machines on and off.”
Elsewhere there were reports that women were being pressured to vote publicly or hand over their ballot papers to polling station staff, and of people with valid voter identification cards being turned away because their names were not on voter rolls.
At one station in Herat, a protest began after dozens of women were barred from casting ballots because their names were not on the list. “We have the right to vote, but they don’t allow us,” said one woman.