At­tacks, fears dampen turnout in Afghan elec­tion

Polls close as vot­ers face Tal­iban threats, chaos

The Korea Times - - World -

KABUL, Afghanista­n (AP) — Pres­i­den­tial elec­tions are over, and Afghanista­n now faces a pe­riod of un­cer­tainty and pos­si­ble po­lit­i­cal chaos. Satur­day’s vote was marred by vi­o­lence, Tal­iban threats and wide­spread al­le­ga­tions of mis­man­age­ment and abuse. It was the fourth time Afghans have gone to the polls to elect a pres­i­dent since 2001 when the U.S.-led coali­tion ousted a re­gres­sive Tal­iban regime.

The lat­est elec­tion seems un­likely to bring the peace sought by Afghans, tired of an in­creas­ingly bru­tal war, or an easy exit for the United States, seek­ing to end its long­est mil­i­tary en­gage­ment.

The pre­lim­i­nary vote count won’t be known be­fore Oct. 17 and the fi­nal tally on Nov. 7. If there is no clear win­ner, a sec­ond round of vot­ing will be held.

Ini­tial es­ti­mates and ob­ser­va­tions at polling sta­tions sug­gest a light turnout among 9.6 mil­lion el­i­gi­ble vot­ers.

Afghanista­n’s Na­tional Se­cu­rity Ad­viser Ham­dul­lah Mo­hib said that those who turned up at polling sta­tions “risked their lives to show that they want to be in con­trol of their own fu­ture.”

Then and now

For Afghans, Satur­day’s vote mir­rored the deeply flawed 2014 pres­i­den­tial polls.

Then, like now, the lead­ing ri­vals for pres­i­dent were Ashraf Ghani and Ab­dul­lah Ab­dul­lah; then, like now, al­le­ga­tions of wide­spread fraud and a deeply flawed and sloppy elec­tion process swirled over the vot­ing; then, like now, vi­o­lent at­tacks marred vot­ing, even forc­ing the clo­sure of some polls. This time roughly 468 polling cen­ters were not opened be­cause it wasn’t pos­si­ble to se­cure them against Tal­iban at­tacks.

In 2014, the United States stepped in to cob­ble to­gether a so-called unity govern­ment fear­ing the al­le­ga­tions of fraud could plunge the coun­try into vi­o­lence. Pres­i­dent Ghani was in­duced to share power with Ab­dul­lah, who was made Chief Ex­ec­u­tive, a new post.

In­ter­na­tional ob­servers say there will be no me­di­a­tion this time around. Be­fore Satur­day’s polls the U.S. is­sued stiff warn­ings against fraud and even seemed to take di­rect aim at Ghani’s govern­ment re­fus­ing to pay more than $160 mil­lion in aid pro­jects di­rectly to the govern­ment say­ing it was too cor­rupt.

What next

The next step in the process is to bring the votes from across the coun­try to the In­de­pen­dent Elec­tion Com­mis­sion com­pound in the cap­i­tal Kabul, where they will be counted again. The ini­tial count­ing and record­ing was done at the site of the polling and then the bal­lots were trans­ferred to dis­trict cen­ters and fi­nally to the cap­i­tal.

In a coun­try at war, Afghanista­n’s se­cu­rity agen­cies say the ex­er­cise is a dif­fi­cult and in some ar­eas painfully slow process.

Ab­dul­lah said his big­gest worry was bal­lot box stuff­ing. Con­tro­ver­sial turnout fig­ures could fur­ther tar­nish the re­sults.

What’s at stake

Pres­i­dent Ghani stead­fastly main­tained the elec­tions were nec­es­sary to give the next govern­ment le­git­i­macy as Afghanista­n’s rep­re­sen­ta­tive to ne­go­ti­ate with the Tal­iban. Dur­ing a year of talks be­tween the United States and the in­sur­gents, Ghani com­plained bit­terly about be­ing ex­cluded from the talks. Tal­iban have re­fused to talk di­rectly to Ghani’s govern­ment, while meet­ing with other prom­i­nent Afghans, say­ing Ghani is a U.S. pup­pet.

Just as a deal be­tween the U.S. and Tal­iban seemed im­mi­nent, U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump on Sept. 7 — just weeks be­fore pres­i­den­tial polls — de­clared the deal “dead” blam­ing Tal­iban vi­o­lence.

A pres­i­den­tial elec­tion re­sult that is hotly con­tested and over­whelmed with ac­cu­sa­tions of fraud could threaten any early at­tempt to restart the peace talks.

A con­tested vote re­sult could also plunge Afghanista­n into vi­o­lence as sup­port­ers of the lead­ing pres­i­den­tial con­tes­tants are heav­ily armed and have long-stand­ing an­i­mosi­ties that could erupt into vi­o­lence.

AP-Yon­hap

Afghan elec­tion work­ers stack bal­lot boxes at the ware­house of Afghanista­n’s In­de­pen­dent Elec­tion Com­mis­sion in Kabul, Afghanista­n,

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