Afghanistan Set to See a Low Voter Turnout
Saturday, September 28 was a big day for Afghanistan: it was election day. 9.76 million voters were registered to vote the day of, but as numbers are coming in an Afghan official says the turnout figure could be as low as 20%.
Taliban attacks on voting stations in the country have attempted to interfere with the process, but tight security has mitigated the violence seen in the last election. However, fear of these attacks has not quelled, even with the tens of thousands of troops deployed to protect polling stations.
Javed Khan, a cart vendor, says, "We all want to vote. This is our country and it is our duty. But everyone is scared." As Noor Alam, a carpenter who fought against the Soviets in his youth, puts it, "[voting] is not worth risking your life."
According to the Afghanistan Analysts Network, more than 400 attacks were carried out by militants this Saturday. From these attacks, five were killed, and 76 people were injured across the country. Furthermore, eight election staff were kidnapped in central Parwan province's Shinwari district. Officials are actively working to rescue them.
Some argue that fear should not dictate people's abilities to vote. Yama Sultani, a law student who lost a friend in a suicide bombing near the campus last year, says, "We cannot just lock ourselves in a room. Every morning before I go to school I pray to God in case this is my last day. I will do the same on [election day]."
However, Samad Agha, a cauliflower seller, asserts, "It seems pointless to vote in this situation. There are going to be attacks. No one feels secure, and people are deeply worried."
"People are confused. They want to know whether this election will help bring peace or just more insecurity," said one of the police officers, Ahmad Qasim. "They should give up the war, come in and become citizens again. Otherwise, more people will just be killed, whether they vote or not."
However, Thomas Ruttig and Jelena Bjelica of the Afghanistan Analysts Network argue that "turnout appears to have been dampened not just by Taliban threats, but also voter disinterest."
The last presidential election in 2014 saw a turnout of approximately 7 million people, but the results were marred with fraud and the results were never actually released. As a result, Kate Clark, a researcher with the Afghan Analysts Network, says that many people are apathetic about voting. Incomplete voters' lists in combination with the biometric identification system not working seemingly exacerbate the problem.
In the past few months concerns have increased when leaked memos and abrupt firings revealed how unprepared the administration was to arrange elections, despite significant foreign investment to make the process fraud-proof.
Critics argue that the entirety of election reform has been an utter failure, and as a result, the public trust continues to lower.
"A lot of money has been spent on electoral reforms. A lot of studies have been done and proposals made, and still we are worse off than 10 years ago," said Davood Moradian, president of the Afghan Institute for Strategic Studies. "Every pillar of the state is based on politics, not the constitution. The Taliban can't topple the government, nor can corruption, but there has to be a political transition. It is not the date that matters, it is the process, and there is no light at the end of the tunnel."