In this rugged country where ballots are counted by hand and election results are viewed with suspicion, impatient presidential candidates are not willing to wait for official numbers and have started counting votes themselves. After Saturday’s presidential election, tens of thousands of volunteers for the candidates are visiting polling stations across the country to call in results that have been taped on the walls of mosques and schools. The team of former finance minister Ashraf Ghani has created a website with pie charts and bar graphs that show partial returns as they come in, three weeks ahead of the expected announcement of the winner. Perhaps unsurprisingly, his website is projecting that he will be the victor (by a margin of 57 percent, with a quarter of the ballots counted). The days after the vote have transformed campaign offices into command centers where candidates’ staffs are calling around the country collecting photos and videos and complaints about alleged fraud, calculating vote totals and positioning themselves for a possible runoff election if no candidate passes the 50 percent threshold. The early and partial results, which have been bandied about on social media and are showing a tight race between Ghani and former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah, have galled the candidates who appear to be losing.
Former World Bank executive Ashraf Ghani and opposition leader Abdullah Abdullah appeared to be the two front-runners in Afghanistan’s presidential election, sidelining a candidate viewed as President Hamid Karzai’s favorite, according to partial results tallied by news organizations and one candidate. A victory for Mr. Abdullah or Mr. Ghani could significantly reduce the influence of Mr. Karzai, who has ruled Afghanistan since the 2001 U.S. invasion. Both candidates say they will sign the bilateral security agreement, which is needed to maintain American aid and a limited U.S. military presence in Afghanistan once the international coalition’s current mandate expires in December. Mr. Karzai has infuriated Washington by refusing to complete the deal. The Wall Street Journal tallied partial election results from visits to roughly 100 polling stations, out of more than 20,000 nationwide, in the capital Kabul and the cities of Mazar-e-Sharif in the north, Kandahar in the south, and Gardez and Jalalabad in the east. At nearly all these stations, Messrs. Ghani and Abdullah were the clear leaders, according to counts posted by local poll supervisors. Mr. Karzai’s former foreign minister, Zalmai Rassoul, trailed far behind.
Millions of Afghans defied Taliban threats and rain on Saturday, underscoring their enormous expectations from an election that comes as the country’s wobbly government prepares to face down a ferocious insurgency largely on its own. With combat forces from the U.S.-led coalition winding down a 13-year presence and the mercurial Hamid Karzai stepping aside, the country’s new leader will find an altered landscape as he replaces the only president Afghans have known since the Taliban was ousted in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks. But for some, progress — particularly with women’s rights — the country’s situation is inauspicious, especially with its poor security and battered economy. Yet despite spiraling carnage and grave disappointments, Afghans by the millions crowded mosque courtyards and lined up at schools to vote, telling a war-weary world they want their voices heard. Nazia Azizi, a 40-year-old housewife, was first in line at a school in eastern Kabul. “I have suffered so much from the fighting, and I want prosperity and security in Afghanistan,” she said. “I hope that the votes that we are casting will be counted and that there will be no fraud in this election.”
Security has been a scarce commodity in Afghanistan for some time, but the Taliban’s recent spate of attacks intended to disrupt the April 5 elections – and the promise of more to come – have amplified the sense of insecurity. Assaults targeting international observers and the election commission itself have left open questions regarding the legitimacy and the security of Saturday’s vote. In an attempt to calm nerves and promise a safe day at the polls, the Interior Ministry, coupled with Afghan Special Forces, planned a press conference on Thursday to answer security questions. But things did not go as planned; after Wednesday’s deadly attack on the MOI’s compound within central Kabul’s heavily guarded “steel belt”, it started to seem that the Taliban can strike at will. So can the security apparatus improve confidence?
Afghans are excited about the upcoming presidential poll. For the first time in history the war-torn country will see the transfer of power from one elected president to another. But for Afghan refugees living in Pakistan, the April 5 election will just be another ordinary day as they have been officially disenfranchised. The Afghan election commission says it does not have sufficient resources to make proper polling arrangements for the Pakistani Afghans, most of whom dwell in the refugee camps along the Pakistani-Afghan border. According to the United Nations Refugee Agency, UNHCR, there are around 2.6 million registered Afghans in Pakistan, most of whom had migrated to the neighboring Islamic republic during the 1980s Afghan war against the Soviet forces. After the US invasion of Afghanistan and the subsequent toppling of the Islamist Taliban government in 2001, many Afghans moved back to their homeland. A large number, however, preferred to stay back in Pakistan. Afghanistan allowed its citizens in Pakistan to vote in the 2004 presidential vote, but in the 2009 election, they were excluded due to security risks. Incumbent Afghan President Hamid Karzai was successful in both elections.
For Afghanistan’s “Generation America,” Saturday’s presidential election marks a vital rite of passage. Almost two thirds of Afghans are younger than 25, and millions have come of age during the 12 years since U.S. troops and development dollars arrived. Despite a violent Taliban insurgency and rampant corruption, young Afghans have enjoyed unprecedented freedoms and opportunities, and many of them will be voting for the first time to preserve them. A smooth election is hardly assured. On Wednesday, a Taliban suicide bomber detonated his explosive vest at the entrance to the ministry of interior, killing six officers in one of central Kabul’s most heavily guarded spots. An election critically disrupted by the Taliban—or stolen through fraud—could push Afghanistan into renewed civil war, reopening old ethnic fissures and imperiling many gains of the past decade. As Afghanistan prepares for the first transfer of power since the U.S. installed President Hamid Karzai in 2001, the vote will determine whether the gains of the American era will be sustained after most U.S. troops go home in December.
On April 5th, the scheduled date of Afghanistan’s upcoming Presidential election, there will be around a dozen polling centers in Chak, a narrow valley of mud homes and alfalfa farms that lies some forty miles from Kabul. A few of the centers, which are essentially rooms with a section curtained off for voting, will be in schools; others will be in mosques. At least two will be in tents pitched on mountain slopes, near the grazing ranges of nomadic herders. Freshly painted campaign billboards loom over the road into the valley. Tens of thousands of ballots are ready for delivery, and officials are considering a helicopter drop for some of the valley’s most remote reaches. None of this will matter, though, because on Election Day there will not be a single voter or election worker in any of Chak’s polling centers. When I asked a U.S.-backed militia commander in the area, whom I will call Raqib, to explain why, he drew a finger across his throat, and said, “Taliban.”
Mariam Wardak is one of those young Afghans with her feet in two worlds: At 28, she has spent much of her adult life in Afghanistan, but she grew up in the United States after her family fled there. She vividly remembers the culture shock of visits back to her family’s village in rural Wardak Province a decade ago. “A woman wouldn’t even show her face to her brother-in-law living in the same house for 25 years,” she said. “People would joke that if someone kidnapped our ladies, we would have to find them from their voices. Now women in Wardak show their faces — they see everybody else’s faces.” Ms. Wardak’s mother, Zakia, is a prime example. She used to wear a burqa in public, but now has had her face printed on thousands of ballot pamphlets for the provincial council in Wardak. She campaigns in person in a district, Saydabad, that is thick with Taliban.
Afghanistan: Taliban’s Onslaught to Disrupt Presidential Elections Has Failed to Curb Voter Enthusiasm | Wall Street Journal
Lining up behind hundreds of fellow Afghans, Ghazanfar spent up to six hours each day over the past week waiting to register for Saturday’s elections. “Sun and rain, none of that has been a problem for me,” said Mr. Ghazanfar, a 46-year-old laborer in Kabul, who like many Afghans has only one name. “I am here to support a better future for Afghanistan.” The Taliban have launched a violent onslaught on Kabul and other Afghan cities in recent days, trying to disrupt the historic election. But, so far, the Taliban intimidation has failed to tamp down the enthusiasm of ordinary Afghans like Mr. Ghazanfar for the election, in which the country will pick a new leader after 13 years under President Hamid Karzai. Notwithstanding occasional violence and bureaucratic weakness that requires such registration waits, the country has gone through a full-fledged campaign, with crowded, nationwide rallies by the main candidates, and lively televised debates.
Usually, an Afghan election — a $100 million, Western-funded exercise — draws foreigners to Kabul like flies to honey, with incoming flights full of consultants, international monitors, diplomats and journalists. Not this time. Now, it is the flights out that are full, and the incoming planes are half empty. With the possible exception of journalists, foreigners have been leaving Afghanistan like never before during an election period after a series of attacks on foreign targets and the commission running the vote. An attack on the offices of the Independent Election Commission went on all Saturday afternoon, with staff members hiding in armored bunkers and safe rooms while five insurgents fired rockets and small arms at the commission’s compound, having sneaked into a building nearby disguised in burqas.
Suicide bombers targeted buildings near the Independent Election Commission headquarters in Kabul on Saturday, staff and police said, the latest in a spate of attacks ahead of next week’s presidential election. “I am here… the attack is going on around the IEC compound,” spokesman Noor Mohammad Noor told Reuters by telephone from a safe room inside the building. An explosion was followed by gunfire, IEC staff and police said.
The number of people killed when militants stormed an election commission office in the Afghan capital Tuesday has risen to five, a spokesman for the Afghan Interior Ministry said. The victims were two police officers, two election commission workers and a provincial council candidate, said spokesman Sediq Sediqqi in Kabul. Eight others were injured, including four police officers and four election commission staff, Seddiqi said. After a five-hour gunbattle with Afghan security services, the five militants who carried out the attack were also killed, he said, bringing the violence to an end. Two militants blew themselves up as they entered the compound in the Darul Aman area, he said, while the remaining three went into the election commission building.
Taliban fighters attacked the Kabul headquarters of the Afghanistan’s independent election commission (IEC) headquarters on Saturday, the latest in a spate of attacks ahead of next week’s presidential vote. No injuries were reported from in the initial stage of the attack, but security forces and Taliban fighters were still shooting at each other. “Four suicide bombers armed with light and heavy weapons have entered a building near the IEC headquarters and are shooting towards the IEC compound and at passersby,” Mohammad Zahir, the Kabul police chief, told reporters near the site of the attack. The IEC compound is also close to offices used by the UN and and other international organisations.
Militants launched a gun and suicide attack on an Afghan election commission office in Kabul on Tuesday, police said, less than two weeks before the presidential poll. The Taliban have vowed a campaign of violence to disrupt the ballot on April 5, urging their fighters to attack polling staff, voters and security forces in the run-up to election day. Blasts were heard at an Independent Election Commission office in the western Darulaman area of the Afghan capital, close to the home of Ashraf Ghani, who is seen as a frontrunner in the race to succeed President Hamid Karzai.
Two foreign election observer and support missions have pulled staff out of Afghanistan after a Taliban attack on a hotel in Kabul, in a move that could undermine confidence in the outcome of next month’s vote. The presidential election on 5 April could mark the country’s first democratic transfer of power. Many fear a repeat of the widespread fraud that discredited the poll in 2009 when about 20% of votes were thrown out. “It’s really bad news,” said Jandad Spingar, director at the Free and Fair Election Foundation of Afghanistan, the largest Afghan monitoring group. “Having international observers in the election is really, really important … [to] give legitimacy to the process.”
It’s often said that slow and steady wins the race. But that’s not the case for Abdullah Abdullah, who needs a quick and decisive victory if he hopes to emerge as Afghanistan’s next president. Afghanistan’s complex ethnic politics likely mean that Abdullah must secure a first-round win — requiring more than 50 percent of the vote on April 5 — because he would struggle to win any second-round matchup. This is because of the nine remaining candidates, Abdullah stands as the exception. He is a mixed ethnic Tajik and Pashtun, while the other eight are Pashtun, the largest ethnic group in Afghanistan.
On April 5, the Afghan people will vote in the country’s third presidential elections in history. In addition to the important questions of who is likely to win the race and what various outcomes will mean for the future of the county, these elections represent something else—another attempt at organizing free and fair elections in a weak, war-torn state. Difficulties abound, but based on the experience with the 2004 and 2009 presidential elections in Afghanistan, the challenges that the country has to face for these elections to succeed lie in three intimately intertwined and basic issues: voting management, country-wide participation and the perception of elections. When the international community and the post-Taliban interim Afghan government first took up the task of holding general elections in Afghanistan in 2004-2005, one major problem was apparent, namely that in this (post-)conflict state, which has no effective civil registry, the task of organizing and monitoring voting would be extremely difficult.
The candidate strode down the aisle separating hundreds of male and female supporters at a campaign rally in Kabul. She shook hands with the women filling the chairs to her right. To the men on the other side, she simply nodded. Habiba Sarabi is the most prominent woman running on a ticket in the April 5 election to choose a successor to President Hamid Karzai. Sarabi once served as Afghanistan’s first female governor, and her current bid to become Afghanistan’s first female vice president is part of an effort to get out the women’s vote as candidates scramble for every ballot. Women “can affect the transition, the political transition,” she said in an interview after addressing the rally to support Sarabi and her running mate, presidential candidate Zalmai Rassoul. The event was held in a wedding hall in a Kabul district dominated by her ethnic minority Hazara community.
The Taliban threatened voters Monday and warned they will “use all force” possible to disrupt Afghan presidential elections next month, posing a crucial test for the country’s security forces seeking to show they can bring stability as the West prepares to end its combat mission by the end of the year. The Taliban’s first direct threat against the vote was one half of a double blow to hopes for a peaceful outcome from the elections. Observers said the death of the influential vice president over the weekend deprives the country of a powerbroker who could have prevented bitter recriminations among factions after the new leader is named.
The Taliban today vowed to target Afghanistan’s presidential election, urging their fighters to attack polling staff, voters and security forces before the April 5 vote to choose a successor to Hamid Karzai. Previous Afghan elections have been badly marred by violence, with at least 31 civilians and 26 soldiers and police killed on polling day alone in 2009 as the Islamist militants displayed their opposition to the US-backed polls. Another blood-stained election would damage claims by international donors that the expensive military and civilian intervention in Afghanistan since 2001 has made progress in establishing a functioning state system.
Afghan presidential candidates continue campaigning amid escalating security threats by the Taliban militant group, Press TV reports. The Taliban have rejected the April election and stepped up attacks to sabotage the electoral process. This comes after presidential candidates in Afghanistan began two months of campaigning for the April 5 election. The presidential hopefuls discuss issues at small rallies ranging from the Taliban to the future of foreign troops in Afghanistan. They also have outlined their working plans after being elected as the country’s new president.
The Independent Election Commission in Afghanistan said it met with U.N., human rights officials and foreign representatives to review plans for the April vote. The IEC said members of the Afghan Human Rights Commission met in Kabul with election officials, U.N. officials and foreign envoys to discuss April elections. A running clock on the IEC website says elections are in 45 days. Jan Kubis, U.N. special envoy to Afghanistan, said national officials should coordinate more closely to ensure the results of the April presidential and provincial council elections are accepted by winners and losers alike.
The posters are printed. The rallies are organized. A televised debate is planned. Campaign season for Afghanistan’s presidential election kicks off Sunday, and the stakes are high for the 11 candidates vying to succeed President Hamid Karzai and oversee the final chapter in a NATO-led combat mission. The April 5 vote is a pivotal moment in Afghanistan’s history, its outcome seen as make-or-break for the country’s future and key to the level of foreign involvement here after nearly 13 years of war. Billions of dollars in funds are tied to the government’s holding a free and fair election — the first independent vote organized by Afghanistan without direct foreign assistance. Amid a surge in violence from the Taliban ahead of the NATO combat troop withdrawal at the end of the year, the poll also will be a crucial test of whether Afghanistan can ensure a stable transition. And the West will be watching the vote as means of gauging the success of its efforts to foster democracy and bolster security over the past 12 years.
As Afghanistan’s upcoming presidential elections is getting closer, both the election commission and the citizens are increasingly concerned that security challenges may disrupt the polling process. “Security problems have remained the main challenge before holding elections and it is a matter of concerns for the Independent Election Commission(IEC),” spokesman for the election body, Noor Mohammad Noor told Xinhua recently. He also confirmed that the election commission had failed to open registration centers for voters in four districts of Bagran, Disho, Kakar and Alasai in the country’s more than 400 districts because of security problems. Afghanistan’s third presidential and provincial councils’ elections are slated for April 5, 2014 in the post-Taliban nation amid Taliban threats to disrupt the process. Meanwhile, Noon Mohammad Noor, the IEC spokesman, admitted that security problems are a challenge for the historic polls scheduled for April next year.
An American organization tasked with furthering democracy in developing nations said Monday that while elections next April in Afghanistan are unlikely to be perfect, they should be better than previous polls marred by widespread fraud. The National Democratic Institute for International Affairs said its assessment mission to Afghanistan believes there is “guarded optimism” about the April 5 polls that will elect a new president to succeed Hamid Karzai, along with local council members for the country’s 34 provinces. But the organization said the elections still face serious challenges, including security, potential fraud and even weather conditions that could affect voter turnout. The 2009 presidential election was so soiled that U.N.-backed fraud investigators threw out more than 1 million votes — enough to force a second round. Many observers blamed much of the fraud on Karzai’s supporters, but he blamed the U.S. for allegedly interfering against him. In the end, the opposing candidate dropped out and Karzai was elected was elected to a second and final five-year term. Since then, reforms in the voting process have tried to make the elections commissions more independent of the presidency.
Organizers of Afghanistan’s make-or-break presidential election next year say poor security, a shortage of monitors and funding holes are undermining their ability to safeguard the process from the widespread fraud that marred the last poll in 2009. Another deeply flawed election would undermine the attempts of Washington and its allies to foster democracy ahead of the withdrawal of foreign troops later in 2014. “The foundation of the election due to technical issues was not done in the proper way,” said Noor Mohammad Noor, spokesman for the Independent Election Commission (IEC). “We need measures to secure the process through observers.” Western nations, who have spent hundreds of billions of dollars on a conflict that has failed to end the Taliban insurgency, have pledged about a third less cash to the United Nations (U.N.) fund that will cover most of the election’s costs compared with 2009, official U.N. figures shows. The reduced budget is partly because some land and equipment that had to be bought last time is being reused and fewer foreign advisers are needed, say the U.N. and IEC chief Yousof Nooristani.
With Afghanistan’s next presidential election just five months away, authorities say they are facing a possible repeat of the abuses that have discredited the country’s efforts to build a democracy. Election officials say they can only estimate how many voters are really on the rolls. Added to the confusion are millions of additional registration cards from the elections of the past. Taliban threats cast a further damper. “This is the reality of this country. We are conducting elections in a difficult situation, with poor security, but we must conduct elections,” said Noor Mohammed Noor, the head of the Independent Election Commission. “It is the only way for our country to succeed.” A credible election would do much for the West’s efforts to foster democracy in Afghanistan after allegations of fraud marred the 2009 vote that handed President Hamid Karzai a second term. He is banned by the constitution from running for a third.
Khadija Ghaznawi says she knows exactly how to end the long-simmering conflict in Afghanistan: build more factories. A logistics company owner by profession and peace activist on the side, Ghaznawi says that if the government had been diligent about creating more jobs for Afghans, militants would have laid down their arms already. “The Afghan Taliban are also sick of fighting,” she says. “They haven’t gotten any of the opportunities from aid money that came into this country. If we provide work and education for their kids, they’ll stop.” That was one of the causes Ghaznawi was planning to champion as the only woman running for president in Afghanistan’s upcoming national elections — that is, until she was disqualified a few days ago. In 162 days, Afghan voters will choose their next president, in an election that stands to shape the future of this troubled nation in the year the U.S. completes its withdrawal after more than a decade-long occupation. But Ghaznawi will most likely not be on the ballot. On Oct. 22, Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission (IEC) announced that over half the candidates who had put their names forward for the job did not qualify to run. Ghaznawi says she has no idea why she was booted off the list. “The elections commission didn’t tell me why,” she said. “I haven’t received one phone call… I’m very angry with the decision.”
Sayed Gul walked into a small mud brick room in eastern Afghanistan, a bundle wrapped in a shawl on his back. With a flick, he plonked the package onto a threadbare carpet and hundreds of voter cards spilled out. “How many do you want to buy?” he asked with a grin. Like many others, Gul left a routine job – in his case, repairing cars in Marco, a small town in the east – to join a thriving industry selling the outcome of next year’s presidential elections. Gul, who had a long, black beard and was dressed in the traditional loose salwar kameez, said he was able to buy voter cards for 200 Pakistani rupees ($1.89) each from villagers and sell them on for 500 rupees ($4.73) to campaign managers, who can use them in connivance with poll officials to cast seemingly legitimate votes. From each card, Gul said, he made enough money to pay for a hearty meal like kebabs with rice, and maybe even a soda.
Afghanistan: Gunman kills provincial election official days after start of campaign season | Associated Press
A gunman killed the head of a provincial election commission in northern Afghanistan on Wednesday, officials said. The shooting came as Afghanistan’s campaign season started this week, with authorities accepting candidate nominations for presidential and provincial elections next spring. The man slain in Wednesday’s attack, Amanullah Aman, is believed to be the highest-ranking election official to be killed in Afghanistan since the Taliban government was ousted in 2001. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack.