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Afghan Voters Head to Polls, Defiant of Taliban Threats

Voice of America
21 Oct 2018, 00:05 GMT+10

KABUL, AFGHANISTAN - Voters are lined up to cast their ballots in polling stations across Afghanistan despite repeated threats from Taliban, including a new one Saturday morning, that they would attack all polling stations.

In capital Kabul, voters struck a defiant tone.

"We are not afraid of threats because we want to build our country. Today we had a lot of threats, but we are still here to vote," said Fariba, a female voter in Kabul.

In other parts of the country, officials seemed confident about the safety measures they had taken.

"The security measures are all in place. We have a really good coordination with the security forces," said Mohammad Rasul Omar, the head of Independent Election Commission in Kunduz, although election officials reported that Taliban had stolen election material from at least one polling station in the province, and local journalists had reported some rocket attacks in various parts of the province.

A long line of women wait to cast their ballots outside a Kabul polling station, Oct. 20, 2018.

The start of polling, originally scheduled for 7 a.m., was delayed in various parts of the country, sometimes by up to several hours, agitating voters who had lined up before 7.

"I was in a hurry, so I came at 7 a.m., but by 7:30 they had not started polling. The process was disorganized. I had to go to a funeral," said Sahila, a female voter in Kabul.

Because of the delays, voting will be extended to Sunday in places where technical and organization glitches stymied voters, Abdul Badi Sayad, chairman of Independent Election Commission, said.

Fraud allegations, Kabul explosions

The election season was marred by allegations of fraud from various political parties and by violence. Two days before the election, an attack in Kandahar killed the influential commander General Abdul Raziq, leading to postponement of elections in the province by a week.

Ten other candidates died in various attacks across the country, along with dozens of their supporters, since the beginning of the nomination period in late May.

At midday Saturday, the Afghan Ministry of Interior confirmed several small explosions in Kabul. The health ministry confirmed a few casualties but would not say if anyone was killed. According to the ministry, tough security measures stopped the attackers from getting close to the polling stations, the intended target.

Election overdue

The sitting Afghan parliament had completed its constitutional term in 2015 but continued to operate under a presidential decree because of a delay in electoral reforms. Until a month ago, many analysts and journalists were not sure the elections would actually take place.

"There was no trust, now there is trust; there was doubt, and now it has converted to belief; there was criticism, and we converted that to cooperation," said President Ashraf Ghani, who cast his ballot in Amani High School near the presidential palace.

A man in a Kabul polling station is getting his fingerprints taken on the new biometrics system introduced to reduce fraud in elections, Oct. 20, 2018.

He also praised the election commission for taking the right technical measures to help with the legitimacy of the polls.

The election commission introduced a new biometric system after political parties expressed concern about the transparency of the process. Despite concerns that the system, which was not adequately tested ahead of time, might crash or create problems, voters in several polling stations in Kabul seemed to be satisfied with their experience.

"We are very pleased with the process. It was very transparent," said Fazila, a Kabul voter.

Security, election observers

Around 70,000 security personnel are deployed around the country to safeguard 5,100 polling stations. The original plan was to operate more than 7,000 polling stations but was changed because of security concerns and high threat alerts in several areas. At least 19 districts in Afghanistan are considered under a severe threat of attacks.

Around 132 observers from various countries and the European Union are joining close to half a million local observers. Many of these are agents of candidates or political parties, civil society activists, and other groups monitoring the elections.

More than 2,500 candidates are competing for the 249 seats in the next parliament. Out of these, about 400 female candidates are competing for the 68 seats reserved for women.

Speaking to VOA's Afghan Service, Hamdullah Mohib, the National Security Adviser of Afghanistan, said the Taliban had been trying to show that Afghans could not handle this process all on their own, but they will be proven wrong.

These are the first elections since the fall of Taliban, which are being primarily managed by the Afghan government, including the security arrangements. Resolute Support, NATO's mission in Afghanistan, has said they are ready to support the Afghan forces if needed.

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