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For Afghans, the Chance to Vote Outweighed Any Taliban Threats

It was the lack of ballot boxes and sheets across several provinces, rather than security, that became a source of concern.

by Ali M Latifi
Apr 5 2014, 4:50pm

Photo by Reuters

With more than 350,000 members of the Afghan National Security forces deployed throughout the nation, it was logistical shortcomings — the lack of ballot boxes and sheets across several provinces — rather than security that became a source of concern during Afghanistan's presidential and provincial council elections Saturday.

For those in line, the chance to participate in the nation’s first peaceful, democratic transition of power outweighed any Taliban threats.

Initial IEC estimates put the turnout at seven million, or 64 percent of all men of voting age and 36 percent of women.

Saturday’s vote was kicked off with Yousof Nuristani, chief of the Independent Election Commission, and Hamid Karzai, the incumbent, casting the first ballots.

Voting in Afghanistan’s presidential election opened on the morning of April 5 as crowds flocked to the polls to choose a successor to Hamid Karzai.

As the rain poured over Kabul, Karzai urged all Afghans to "go out and freely vote for the presidential and provincial council candidates of your choice. Lead this country to victory."

Though in many areas, voting was delayed by half-an-hour to 7:30 AM due to security concerns, but there were only isolated incidences of violence.

The Ministry of Interior said they were able to stop 84 would-be attackers in a 24-hour period. The most severe cases of violence were in the eastern provinces of Khost and Ghazni.

In Khost, a suicide bomber detonated his explosives-laden vest outside a polling station in Zazi Maidan district but was unable to cause any harm to either voters or the voting center itself. In Ghazni, another suicide bomber died after unsuccessfully trying to disrupt the electoral process.

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Local media reported three civilian injuries throughout election day. The Taliban have repeatedly threatened to disrupt what they have called a "sham" ballot.

On March 29, five Taliban fighters attacked Afghanistan's election commission headquarters outside Kabul city, leading to a five-hour gunfight in which all the militants were killed.

The IEC HQ attacks came nearly a week after Taliban attacked a smaller election commission office in the Darulaman neighborhood of Kabul. That attack left two police officers, two election commission workers and a provincial council candidate dead.

Armed insurgents reportedly opened fire on the headquarters of Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission (IEC) in the Pul-i-Charkhi neighborhood of Kabul on March 29.

With police and military stationed throughout the capital, voters in Kabul expressed their gratitude to the security forces stationed outside voting centers.

Haroon, a police office stationed outside the Zarghuna high school polling center, told VICE News "security is our responsibility, we are on the lookout for suicide bombers." As such, Haroon said security forces will be the last to vote.

Of the 7,500 polling centers, 748 were closed due to insecurity.

All three frontrunners — Zalmai Rassoul, former foreign minister, Abdullah Abdullah, who came in second in the 2009 polls, and Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, former foreign minister — had cast their ballots within an hour of the polls opening.

Voting in Afghanistan’s presidential election opened on the morning of April 5 as crowds flocked to the polls to choose a successor to Hamid Karzai.

Though the final result of Saturday’s election is weeks away, reports of irregularities began to pop up throughout the media.

Reports of men and women waiting in lines outside voting centers seemed to reflect higher than estimated turnout rates and as the close of voting neared, ballot material shortages were reported across more than 10 of the nation’s 32 provinces.

In Asad Abad district of Kunar, there were reports of people voting twice. In the north, Mohammad Atta Noor, governor of Balkh province, was accused of sending members of his own personal guard to order people to vote in favor of Abdullah.

In the Old Makroiyan area of Kabul, voters in one mosque said no election observers were present since voting began at 7:30 AM.

Fardin, 52, said three days ago a passenger in his taxi offered him $50 for his voter card.

“He said he would use it for Doctor Rassoul, but I said selling this card would be like selling my nation.”

Long Lines for a Chance to Vote

By 8 AM, half-an-hour after voting began, nearly 120 men — young and old — were lined up outside the Zarghuna high school in the capital's 10th police district. Women were allowed through the doors to cast their ballots in a separate area of the school. A mosque in the Kartei Parwan neighborhood of central Kabul reported 520 men and 314 casting their ballots by 5 PM.

In West Kabul, observers at a high school in the Kartei Seh neighborhood reported more than 1,000 people casting ballots by 1 PM.

Security is on high alert in several parts of Afghanistan on April 5 as millions of citizens take to the polls to elect a successor to President Hamid Karzai.

But the lines were not limited to the capital. In the northern province of Kunduz, where the armed opposition has a strong foothold, men and women were reported to have waited several hours at a time to cast a ballot. Despite hearing several explosions and gunfire, voters continued to wait for their chance to vote.

In the provincial capital, one woman said she had come with her entire family to vote in the nation’s third presidential polls.

In Herat, where massive turnout — among men, women and even the disabled — was reported, several stations began to run out of ballot sheets.

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The Electoral Complaints Commission forwarded all instances of material shortage to the Independent Election Commission. By 3:30 PM, 33 voting centers in the Western province were sent additional voting materials.

In Kabul’s Dast-e Barchi neighborhood, voters were said to be seen rushing to alternative sites as at least one mosque ran out of ballot sheets only minutes prior to the 5 PM cutoff.

“We are here for the future of Afghanistan. That’s why we vote. That’s why we work. But we couldn’t do it without the security forces”, said Zaki, a 21-year-old election monitor in Kartei Seh.

Still, with the pool of eight remaining candidates tied to either the Karzai administration or the civil war, much of this election has also forced people to look back at the nation’s history in order to come to a decision on who to vote for.

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For Hashmat Azami, 25, the process was a lengthy one.

"I had to clearly think about all of the aspects of their character. They had to be a good, devoted Muslim."

In the end, the 25-year-old who waited two hours for a voter card, said he decided to vote for "a man who has stood by his people throughout. He never forgot them, nor did he leave the country."

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Like many other young Afghans, the economy is also a central issue for Karim.

"We need someone who can take all of the unemployed people lining the streets and give them jobs. He has to create a healthy economy so we can once again be a self-sufficient nation," Karim said in reference to the international troop withdrawal scheduled for December.

Nasir Ahmad, 45, said he is glad to not see Karzai's name on the ballot for the first time since the fall of the Taliban.

"I am only half happy with his performance. He did the best he could, but the rich kept getting richer and the poor, poorer over the last 13 years. So many people died in all these military operations, but what do we have to show for it?"

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This disenchantment was echoed by Mariam Morid, 30.

After casting her ballot, the Afghan-German said she is disappointed in Karzai who “has failed to represent the will and people of Afghanistan.”

Morid used the Bilateral Security Agreement — which stipulates the conditions for any US forces remaining in Afghanistan beyond 2014 — as only the latest example of Karzai’s lack of concern for the Afghan people’s wishes.

“The majority of the Loya Jirga he assembled to represent the Afghan people voted in favor of it, but he still won’t sign it,” she said.

But Yama Hashemi, 29, warned Afghans not to be too eager to dismiss the man who has become the nation’s second longest-serving leader.

“We will be missing this guy very soon,” Hashemi said.

Karzai’s Legacy

Farah Shuja, 22, who came out to vote with her mother in West Kabul, also said people are too quick to criticize Karzai.

“He allowed for the situation where we could have a vote for his successor. If he was running today I would have voted for him,” she said.

Though Karzai himself is constitutionally barred from seeking a third term, election watchers have accused the president of backing his close aide and former foreign minister, Rassoul.

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For the people, regardless of who they voted for, what was most important was that the nation hold a fair and free election.

The 2009 polls, which left Karzai and Abdullah to head into a runoff, was marred with allegations of corruption. Based on those charges, which included claims that in some areas, many more votes were cast than there were eligible voters, Abdullah bowed out of the second round in November 2009.