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reporting from Kabul – On the deserted streets of downtown Kabul, FRANCE 24’s Leela Jacinto finds more troops of various stripes than voters going to the polls. She also spoke to rattled Presidential candidate Sarwar Ahmedzai (pictured) about the election process.
Finally, it’s here. D-Day has dawned in Afghanistan after a spirited campaign season, and it opened with a bang in Kandahar, the symbolic birthplace of the Taliban. But here in Kabul, it took a while for the action to pick up.
Shortly after polling booths opened at 7am local time, the streets of the Afghan capital were bare except for troops, armed alarmingly to the teeth, of various stripes – Afghan National Army, Afghan National Police, special forces and presidential guards.
The latter are a very edgy lot, you don’t mess with them I discover as we desperately try to make our way past government buildings and embassies to the Amani School, a polling center in the heart of Kabul. We try though, flashing all the security clearance passes we can muster. This generally gets you through most things in Afghanistan. But this time, only folks with special VIP passes can make it in.
The reason for all this paranoia? The president himself is here. Afghan President Hamid Karzai sails in to vote, looking regal in his resplendent chappan, his trademark traditional robe, flanked by a posse of his cabinet ministers and, yes, his presidential guards.
Karzai says something about peace and security to the press who are gathered at the elite school, which was founded in 1924 and rebuilt by the Germans in 2002.
But another presidential candidate, Sarwar Ahmedzai, who has also come here to cast his vote, is not quite so sanguine. I asked him if he voted. “Yes,” he replies. “For me.”
Ahmedzai is one of the gomnaam, the “unknowns” as Afghans derisively call candidates with no hopes of winning.
And he’s an angry man this morning. He’s angry about Karzai’s track record and he’s angry about Abdullah Abdullah’s war record. Abdullah has placed second in the public opinion polls in the lead-up to the elections and he’s Karzai’s closest challenger.
“If the Election Commission declares Karzai the winner, it will be a fraud. We are going to take whatever means are necessary, whatever peaceful means are necessary to challenge the election,” Ahmedzai fumes. “We have Plan A, B, C set and we are ready to challenge it.”
At the Zarghona High School in the Shar-e-Naw neighborhood of Kabul, a 35-year-old housewife, would be aghast if she heard this. The wife of a police officer, Masooda, who only goes by one name, says she voted for Karzai because “he has experience and because he has done a lot of good for Afghanistan.”
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