People of Afghanistan, who have been living an arduous life for years, came out of their houses on Saturday to elect their leader. However, the 2019 Afghan presidential elections poll were as menacing as the campaigns. Although several headed to polls to vote for the country’s president, their numbers have declined by virtue of the constant threats from the Taliban insurgents.
“The process was smooth,” said Najib Jabarkhel, a voter at a heavily guarded polling center in Kabul, the capital. “But the turnout is low because of threats — the Taliban have threatened that if you go to vote, bring your shroud with you.”
The polling stations this time were less by about 2,500 since the 2014 elections. As the violence has only intensified all these years, this year around 4,500 voting points were facilitated. The Interior Ministry of Afghanistan reported that nearly 68 attacks have been carried out on several elections targets, leading to deaths of three police officers, and wounding of two army soldiers and 37 civilians.
However, The New York Times reported the data received from local officials, stating that at least 30 security personnel and 10 civilians died on Saturday, while nearly 40 security forces and 150 civilians were wounded.
Prior to the election day, the Taliban had threatened the voters directly, leading to fewer and smaller public rallies this year. Last week, the incumbent President Ashraf Ghani, who relied on “virtual rallies” for long, took a risk and conducted a public rally to campaign. However, a suicide bomber killed at least 48 people and wounded dozens in two attacks in the central Parwan Province, and Kabul.
However, the threat for the voters is much more than just the Taliban. The Afghans are fearing that the voting results could paralyze the government and induce prolonged political crisis and further entangle the struggle of reaching a peace deal to end the country’s war that is entering its 18th year.
The 2019 Afghan elections turned into a bitter battle between long-time rivals, the 70-year-old Ashraf Ghani casting himself as a modern leader and the 59-year-old chief executive Abdullah Abdullah, who went for traditional. The 2014 elections dispute between the two had nearly split the country and led to an American-mediated unity government.
Both Ghani and Abdullah are seeing themselves as winning the elections, and have indicated that any other outcome would mean a fraudulent election. The election commission this year has ensured taking measures for a cleaner vote, including the biometric verification process requiring voter’s fingerprints and their picture to prevent ballot-box stuffing.
Head of the government-appointed Independent Election Commission, Hawa Alam Nuristani said that only the votes with biometric verification would be counted. As the voting closed at 5 p.m. local time on Saturday, she appeared confident that her team managed a less-corrupt vote.
“Despite all the challenges, we witnessed the responsible and committed presence of Afghan citizens in voting centers,” Nuristani said. “We witnessed a better election compared to other elections.”
The initial figures by the commission reflected a turnout of around two million, which is a historical low. Besides, a vast Afghan majority of around 9.7 million registered voters reportedly didn’t turn up for casting their votes.
The results of the elections poll are not expected for weeks now. While preliminary results are not likely to be determined until October 17 at the earliest, the final results might delay till November 7 or even later. Experts and officials have suggested that the 2014 elections might repeat, and neither Ghani nor Abdullah will be getting the required 50 per cent in the first round, prompting a call for runoff.
Although the country’s future remains vague, people are still hopeful that peace would be restored. The brave votes that they casted on Saturday suggested their trust in the system, which they believe can put an end to the prolonged violence that the Taliban has been practising for years.