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AFGHANISTAN: Voters defy threats, demand peace

KABUL, 20 August 2009 (IRIN) - Many Afghans were queuing at polling stations in the north, east and west of the country on 20 August to cast their ballots in presidential and provincial council elections, despite security concerns.

Turnout in the south where the Taliban insurgency is strongest, appears to have been low.

Photo: Alexandre Brecher Dolivet/UNAMA
A woman voting in Balkh province

There are more than 30 registered presidential candidates in this the second post-Taliban presidential election. Analysts say President Hamid Karzai is the frontrunner, although many think he may not be elected in the first round as he was in 2004 with more than 55 percent of vote.

Nearly eight years after the ousting of the Taliban regime in late 2001, life is tough for most Afghans. Over seven million people are at risk of hunger, according to Oxfam, and the World Bank says life expectancy is a mere 43 years, compared to 59 years for low-income countries worldwide; only 13 percent of Afghans have access to safe drinking water and 12 percent to adequate sanitation.

Most voters interviewed by IRIN in various parts of the country said the main hope now was for peace and a better life.

Ezzatullah, a 25-year-old shopkeeper from Lashkargah, Helmand Province, southern Afghanistan, told IRIN he was scared of the Taliban but had decided to participate despite the threats. "I am voting today in the hope this will secure peace in our country," he said.

Taliban insurgents have reportedly sent emails to media organizations saying they would be carrying out attacks on voting centres and closing major highways in the south, east and west of the country. "Voting centres in all districts of Uruzgan Province [southern Afghanistan] have been shut down," the insurgents said.

Photo: Khaled Nahiz/IRIN 

"I hope the
next president will bring peace"

Jamila, from Herat Province, western Afghanistan

Abdullah, another shopkeeper in Lashkargah, said he was not going to vote because he was scared of the Taliban. "Also, I think it is useless to vote because the results have already been decided outside Afghanistan," he told IRIN, saying that incumbent President Hamid Karzai would win in any case as he had the support of foreign powers.

Ayub from Jalal-Abad, who works for a local NGO, said he would vote at any cost. "I don't care about the threats from the Taliban and am not afraid if they decide to kill me. By voting, I want to prove that I am against them, and against their efforts to stop people voting. I want to defy the imposition of their will on people. People should decide themselves whether to vote or not," he said.

Jamila, a female voter in Herat Province, western Afghanistan, said everyone was tired of war and insecurity. "I hope the next president will bring peace," she said.

Fear of being targeted

Shaima, a schoolteacher from Herat, said she was not sure whether she would vote. "I am afraid that I will be targeted by the Taliban because there will be ink on my fingers. They [the Taliban] are among ordinary people and will see who is voting and who is not."

Some people in Helmand, Kandahar, Farah and Logar provinces said the Taliban had threatened to cut off the inked fingers of voters. In a bid to prevent fraud and multiple voting, each voter's finger is to be soaked in indelible ink, the Independent Elections Commission said. Whether she votes or not, she said, she was "very hopeful" the elections would bring peace.

"We are voting for peace and stability in our country," said Mirwais Ahmadi, a 45-year-old taxi driver in the northern province of Balkh.

Najeeb, an employee with the Elections Commission in his late 20s, told IRIN in Kabul he was voting because he wanted a "clean" government free of corruption. "The current government is corrupt and I am voting so that a clean and incorrupt government comes to power - one which will make life better for ordinary Afghans and provide better services," he said.

Preliminary results of the polling are expected in early September.

The above article comes to you via IRIN, a UN humanitarian information unit, but may not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies. UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs 2009

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