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Afghans Vote For Parliament Amid Taliban Violence


By Charles Recknagel, Muhammad Tahir, RFE/RL

KABUL -- The Taliban vowed to disrupt Afghanistan's parliamentary polls, but despite making good on their threats the elections went ahead largely as planned.

At a Kabul polling station, an election worker cleans and applies ink on a voter's finger

Attacks by the hard-line Islamic militia killed at least 10 people across the country, with the worst raid occurring in the northern Baghlan Province.

There, gunmen killed one Afghan soldier and six pro-government militiamen at a security outpost next to a polling station. Rocket strikes in northern Takhar Province and eastern Kunar and Nangarhar provinces killed another three people.

The Independent Election Commission (IEC) said 8 percent of the 5,816 polling centers scheduled to be used had either not opened or not reported in, mostly because of security fears. 

That was in addition to another 1,019 sites which election officials had earlier decided not to open due to the inability of government forces to guarantee their security.

Amid the reports of violence, it remains unclear what percent of voters nationwide turned out for the poll. That figure cannot be known immediately.

Ink Complaints

But in many areas there were early reports of good turnout, including in Kandahar city.

Radio Free Afghanistan's correspondent in Kandahar, Muhammad Sidiq Reshten, said city residents came out to vote in large numbers but residents of smaller towns tended to stay home.

"The initial participation of the people in city centers was large but, in contrast to the city, the number of voters in the rural districts [of Kandahar Province] was very much lower," Reshten said.

"A resident of Nagehan village [in Arghandab district] told me at noon today that up until that time there were no ballot papers and boxes, so they were waiting to be able to vote."

Problems with inadequate numbers of ballots were also reported in some other areas of the country, including in the northern province of Jawzjan. 

Hossein Saleh, an activist with a local Turkmen NGO in Jawzjan Province, told Radio Free Afghanistan that ballots in his town ran out just three hours after polling stations opened nationwide at 0700 local time.

There were also complaints by some voters that the ink used to stain their fingers washed off easily. The ink is meant to prevent voters from casting their ballots twice.

But of potentially greater concern for voters across the country were worries about fraudulent voter registration cards and fake ballots. Election watchdogs reported thousands of fake voter registration cards across Afghanistan before the poll.

The IEC sought again to quell those fears, saying election officials could distinguish genuine from false papers. 

Zekeria Barakzai, the deputy head of the secretariat of the election commission, said "All of our ballot papers have a special code, which cannot easily be falsified."

"We held discussions with security officials about what to do to prevent such falsification from happening. Due to the efforts of the commission, several people were arrested in different provinces of Afghanistan," Barakzai said.

Afghanistan's last election -- the presidential election of 2009 -- was marred by massive fraud during the first round. President Hamid Karzai was subsequently declared reelected after his challenger withdrew before the scheduled second round, saying a fair contest could not be guaranteed.

Despite their concerns about both security and fraud, many voters expressed confidence that casting their ballots was worth the risk.

Sayed Ahmed Jamal Murabez, a voter in the downtown Shahr-i-Now neighborhood, came with two of his sons to vote early in the morning. He said he had confidence his vote can help build a better future for the country.

"Of course, one vote can change the fate of the nation, if the government is established based upon the votes of the people," Murabez said.

As he cast his ballot on one side of the girls' high school that serves as the neighborhood's polling station, the women in his family voted separately on the other.

These legislative elections are widely seen as important because the parliament has grown increasingly assertive over recent years, despite the country's strong presidential system. The lower house has the power to approve or reject laws proposed by the government and to approve the president's choice of ministers.

One woman voting in Kabul, Nafas Gul, said she hoped the parliament would only grow stronger after the elections.

"God willing, they [the ballots] will take the voice of the poor to the parliament, so that people will live in peace and won't be worried [in the future] about conflicts and disagreements," Gul said.

The preliminary results from the voting will not be known until October 8 at the earliest, with final results not expected before October 30.

Radio Free Afghanistan correspondent Masom Miwand contributed to this report

Copyright (c) 2010 RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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