Deadly violence mars second day of Afghan parliamentary poll

Mohammad Ismail, REUTERS | An Afghan woman casts her vote during parliamentary elections at a polling station in Kabul, Afghanistan October 20, 2018.
5 min

Hundreds of Afghan polling centres opened Sunday 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 5:00 pm local time.

>> Afghans brave bombs, chaos to vote in parliamentary elections

"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.

Problems surrounding the elections - already three years overdue - threaten to compromise the credibility of polls which an independent monitoring group said were also marred by incidences of ballot stuffing and intimidation by armed men affiliated with candidates in 19 of the country's 32 provinces. Some areas have yet to vote, including Kandahar, where the provincial police chief was gunned down Thursday.

Stakes were high in these elections for Afghans who hoped to reform Parliament, challenging the dominance of warlords and the politically corrupt and replacing them with a younger, more educated generation of politicians. They were also high for the U.S., which is still seeking an exit strategy after 17 years of a war there that has cost more than $900 billion and claimed more than 2,400 U.S. service personnel.

Voters persist despite violence and technological glitches

Polling stations also struggled with voter registration and a new biometric system that was aimed at stemming fraud, but instead created enormous confusion because many of those trained on the system did not show up for work. Also, the biometric machines were received just a month before polls and there was no time to do field testing.

Afghanistan's deputy chief executive Mohammad Mohaqiq expressed outrage at the chaotic start to polling and assailed election preparation by the country's election commission.

"The people rushed like a flood to the polling stations, but the election commission employees were not present, and in some cases they were there but there were no electoral materials and in most cases the biometric systems was not working," he said.

"The widespread reports today of confusion and incompetence in the administration of the elections ... suggest that bureaucratic failures and lack of political will to prioritize organizing credible parliamentary elections may do more to delegitimize the election results than threats and violent attacks by the Taliban and Daesh," said Andrew Wilder, vice-president of Asia Programs at the U.S. Institute of Peace, using the Arabic acronym name for the Islamic State group.

North of Kabul, thousands of outraged voters blocked a road after waiting more than five hours for a polling station to open, said Mohammad Azim, the governor of Qarabagh district where the demonstration took place.

Election Commission Commissioner Abdul Badi Sayat said dozens of teachers who had been trained in the new biometric system had not shown up for work at the polling stations. It wasn't clear whether that was related to a Taliban warning directed specifically at teachers and students telling them to stay away from the polls.

"The long lines at many polling stations today, despite the threats and violent attacks by the Taliban and Daesh, clearly demonstrate that the problem with Afghan elections is not the enthusiasm of Afghan voters for a democratic future," said Wilder.

Turnout numbers unclear

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.

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".

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.

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

Commission deputy spokesman Aziz Ibrahimi said results of Saturday's voting will not be released before mid-November and final results will not be out until later in December.

(FRANCE 24 with AP, AFP)

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