Seemingly low voter turnout marked presidential elections in Afghanistan Saturday, even as security forces managed to maintain relative calm across the country, despite dire warnings from the Taliban.
At least four civilians and three security personnel were killed across the country and more than 50 civilians suffered injuries in election-related violence, mostly from small explosions. The figure is relatively small, keeping in mind past elections and the almost daily violence Afghanistan normally faces.
“At the moment we don’t have the exact number of voter turnout. But we have created a safe environment. We do believe quite a wide range of our compatriots were present,” General Khoshal Sadat, the Afghan deputy interior minister, told VOA before polls closed.
Daryush Khan, who came to a Kabul polling center with his wife and two small children, one of them in his arms, said he was there to safeguard his kids’ future.
“We know there are a lot of problems in Afghanistan, including security. But it’s our civil duty to come out and vote and choose our destiny,” he said. His wife, Gaity, holding up the other crying child, said they could not let threats get in the way of choosing their future.
The Taliban had threatened to attack any election related activity, block roads, and blow up communication towers, calling the elections a “fake process.”
Taliban threats, however, were not the only reason people decided to stay home. Many said they were disgruntled after five years of bad governance and false promises.
"In the last five years, the government didn't deliver anything worthwhile. Especially, they didn't do anything for women. The other candidates are also making empty promises. Nothing will change," said Shabnam Yusufi of Kandahar, ahead of the polls.
A taxi driver in Kabul, Mohsin, said he would go to the polls only to cross out all the names.
The last presidential election was marred by allegations of fraud and the country became so divided that then-U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry had to step in and broker a power-sharing deal between the two leading candidates. The same two, incumbent President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, seemed to be leading in this year’s race as well.
Former warlord turned presidential candidate Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, said the elections were marked with “widespread fraud” and there would be no Kerry this time to save the day.
Hekmatyar, known as the “butcher of Kabul” for mercilessly shelling the Afghan capital in the 1990s, and accused of multiple other war crimes, came into the political fray when he accepted Ghani’s offer of a peace deal.
Days before the election, he issued a veiled threat of violence if he suspected fraud in the polls.
“Don't make us regret our return, don't make us regret participating in the electoral process, don't make us use other means. We can do it and we have the experience to be able to do it," he said to his supporters at an election rally in Kabul earlier this week.
“Afghanistan is not in the 1990s. It has a professional, strong Afghan security force,” responded General Khoshal Sadat, the deputy interior minister in an interview with VOA. “We have grown up in chaos, so we know how to tackle chaos.”
Responding to allegations from multiple candidates, including Abdullah, of fraud or misuse of government resources, Ghani asked election authorities to take robust action.
“If any candidate has any evidence of fraud or corruption in this election, I request them to register their cases with the Electoral Complaints Commission. And I demand the commission to process their complaints,” Ghani said in a live TV address after the election in which he thanked security forces and the nation for a successful polling day.
Sporadic reports of voter registration problems trickled in throughout the day.
“This was a good chance for us to elect our president and choose our future. We have come from far away to vote and choose our upcoming president, but they (election authorities) are just playing with us,” said Abdul Wadood, an elderly man with a white beard who could not find his name on a voter list at a Kabul polling station.