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17 Sep, 2010 18:26

Low turnout amid violence at Afghan polling stations

The vote counting is underway in Afghanistan, where at least 14 people were killed in separate bombings on Saturday’s parliamentary elections. The day was also marred by massive voting irregularities.

Seemingly low voter turnout has been noted, with some polling stations claiming that the number of people who came to cast their ballot was less than a quarter of the number of those who did it in last year’s elections.

The first results are expected to come in next Wednesday, with the final count to be tallied at the end of October.

The Electoral Complaints Commission has said it received numerous reports of irregularities, with some complaints citing incidences of bribery and the use of fake voting cards at polling stations.

Some 300,000 Afghan and 150,000 foreign troops provided security throughout the elections. Despite this, at least 24 people, including four candidates, have been killed in the attacks launched by the Taliban.

Just a few hours into the elections, a massive explosion hit the capital city of Kabul – even before the first stations opened their doors; there were rocket attacks in the southern city of Kandahar; and a direct rocket attack on the polling station in the city of Jalalabad

Itar-Tass news agency has reported that seven people have been killed and five wounded in a terrorist act that occurred at a polling station in Baghlan Province in the north-east of the country. Attacks have also hit the Ghazni, Badakhshan, Heart, Nangarhar and Host provinces, killing at least two more people and wounding several more, the agency said. Attacks have also hit the Ghazni, Badakhshan, Heart, Nangarhar and Host provinces, killing at least two more people and wounding several more, the agency noted.

Of the nearly 6,000 polling stations, more than a thousand had to remain closed because of unsafe conditions.

“We ourselves have received emails from the Taliban saying that they are planning countrywide attacks on the day of the election and that they are targeting both voters and election workers,” says Heidi Vogt, an Associated Press correspondent.

Such threats have had a palpable impact on voter turnout in areas controlled by the Taliban, said political analyst Dr. Habib Hakim.

‘”The level of turnout, in general, in Afghanistan was very low, particularly in those areas that are under the control of the Taliban.” Dr. Hakim said. “[Even in Kabul] turnout was very low.”

But despite the reports of voting violations and widespread Taliban attacks, the elections have been worth it because that’s the only process left available for the nation to express its rights as Afghan citizen, says Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, an Afghan opposition leader who was Hamid Karzai's main challenger in the 2009 presidential election,

“By turning to the polling stations, though perhaps in relatively low numbers, the people have rejected violence and the way of life the Taliban are proposing," he said. "That’s the importance of participation.”

The previous parliamentary elections held five years ago brought to power former warlords and their followers, and also involved a lot of violence.

“I went with my family to an election station. When we got there, there were people with guns," Ahmad, who voted in the last elections, told RT. "They wanted us to vote for their person; they said, 'If you don’t vote for us we will hurt you.' They could see who we voted for and when they realized it was for someone else, they beat us up very badly.”

Earlier, Jerome Starkey from the London Times predicted that those who do make it to the polling stations in the current elections would do it for different reasons.

“Turnout on the whole will be low, but there are nonetheless various different groups motivated to vote for very different reasons. Some of them will be tribal, some of them will try and secure their voice… Other people may be voting because they have been paid to vote,” he said.

Malou Innocent, a foreign policy analyst from the CATO Institute in Washington, says the election is falling short of standards of democracy and underscores deeper problems within the country.

“Given the amount of insecurity and instability and the fact that there’s a flood of voter registries, there has been voter intimidation, voter bribery and there’s a great deal of uncertainty as to what’s going to happen,” Innocent said. “And despite the fact that there are 2,400 candidates – over 40 of them women – you have to really understand that the complexity of all this means that there really won’t be what we would define as a liberal democratic electoral process.”