Afghanistan went to the polls on Saturday 28 September, in a presidential election that has been hampered by technological failures, allegations of fraud, and the fear of attacks by the Taliban. The two front-runners, incumbent Ashraf Ghani, and the Chief Executive of Afghanistan Abdullah Abdullah, cast their ballots along with millions of Afghans, in a country that is in the midst of a large-scale economic downturn, and that has been plagued by political division and violence since 2014. Speaking to reporters after casting his ballot, Ghani, who is seeking a second and final five-year term, called for the vote to be a way for “Afghanistan to move forward.” Meanwhile Abdullah referred to the security threats on polling stations, saying that “the threats to innocent people do not show the strength of the Taliban.”
Turnout was noticeably lower than in previous elections, with observers citing the security situation as a strong reason why many decided to stay home. According Reuters, the Transport Election Foundation of Afghanistan described early turnout as being “very poor.” For those who did decide to vote, technological issues relating to the newly-introduced biometric identification system, meant that there were long lines at polling stations, causing significant frustration among many residents. There were also complaints by hundreds of voters that their names were missing from electoral lists.
The poll came just weeks after peace talks between the U.S. and the Taliban collapsed, and in the days leading up to the poll, the group had threatened voters, warning them that their participation in the illegitimate election would lead to them being targeted on the day. Despite 70,000 security officers being deployed to combat the threat, the Defense Ministry was quoted by Reuters as saying that there had been three deaths and 37 injuries in attacks around the country, with a polling station in Kandahar in the south of the country, having been targeted by a car bomb. Despite the casualties, the head of the country’s Independent Election Commission, Hawa Alam Nuristani, characterized the vote as having been “the healthiest and fairest election in comparison to the previous elections,” as reported by Reuters.
There is certainly hope among observers, although few expect that the results will be able to provide any form of stability for the country. These sentiments were endorsed by Ghani, who, according to the Guardian, stated that he wanted Saturday’s vote to be seen as a democratic mandate for the President, to start healing the political divide that has engulfed the country for years. However, given that both of the front runners have been accused of corruption, the Taliban are strengthening their grip on territory to the north, and there is likely to be a runoff with the final two candidates, means that Afghanistan, with its precarious democratic system, will likely have weeks, if not months, of political uncertainty ahead.
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