Fears about terror attacks and disillusionment with an ineffective government kept many Afghans home during this past weekend’s national election.
“I voted last time, but the result just made the country worse,” 36-year-old Farhad Azimi said. Only about 20 percent of 9.66 million registered voters turned out, the country’s lowest participation since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion.
Those who did vote chose from 18 contenders for the presidency, including incumbent Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah, the country’s chief executive and Ghani’s toughest competition. Preliminary results are expected by Oct. 17. If no candidate wins 51 percent of the vote, the top two will enter a runoff.
Ahead of the election, the Taliban vowed to target polling stations and warned civilians to stay away. The government deployed security troops numbering more than 70,000 to polling centers and some major cities.
Interior Minister Massoud Andarabi said authorities recorded 68 Taliban attacks during voting, including in the capital, Kabul. The Afghanistan Analysts Network, a research organization, counted about 400 attacks. The violence killed at least five people and left dozens of others injured. In the southern city of Kandahar, a bomb attack at a polling station injured at least 15 people.
Afghans who braved the insecurity complained of incomplete voters’ lists, malfunctioning biometric identification systems, and fraud. Election officials closed 431 polling stations because they couldn’t guarantee voters’ safety.
Complaints of election irregularities marred the last vote in 2014, and the United States mediated a power-sharing deal between the same top contenders after months of disagreements. Ghani became president and Abdullah served as chief executive, although tensions remained between the two. So far, both men have claimed victory in Saturday’s vote.
The timing is direr this year since the election comes only weeks after U.S. negotiations with the Taliban failed.
Graeme Smith, a consultant with the International Crisis Group, said the Taliban likely will try to use the low turnout to legitimize its claim that the ruling government does not reflect the will of the people. But the resumption of talks also depends on the willingness of the United States. “Unfortunately for the people of Afghanistan, they’re still stuck in the war,” Smith said.