On October 20, Afghanistan held its long overdue parliamentary elections. Delayed since 2015, the polls were only the third since the ousting of the extremist Islamist Taliban regime in the wake of the 9/11 attacks in 2001. While voter turnout in Kabul and other cities was reportedly high, the election was spoiled by technical and organizational problems at some of the 4,900 polling stations across the country. Contrary to large populations centers, where security was – for Afghan standards – relatively good, insurgent attacks severely hampered, if not prevented, voting in some more remote areas. These disruptions open the door even further for – justified or not – criticism of the results (preliminary results are scheduled to be announced on November 10). The Diplomat visited two polling centers in Kabul’s Shahr-i Naw, a neighborhood in the center of the Afghan capital only a few minutes’ walk away from heavily guarded ministries and embassies. Both opened as scheduled on the morning of October 20. Voters arrived alone or in small groups and entered the stations, which were – like many around the country – located in mosques guarded by a number of police officers. Across Afghanistan, reportedly 70,000 government forces were deployed to ensure the security of the elections.
After casting their ballots, several voters told The Diplomat that they had found a good candidate to vote for. Across Afghanistan, about 2,500 candidates vied for the 250 seats of the Wolesi Jirga, the lower house of Afghanistan’s bicameral National Assembly. Voters also said that they were hopeful that their ballot would make a difference. People that had already voted were easily recognizable by a purple fingertip – colored by an ink that is one of several mechanisms meant to prevent double voting.
“The elections are beneficial, because that’s the way to fix our homeland,” Hussain, a neatly dressed elder, said after casting his vote. Nureddin, a young man who works in a nearby motorcycle store explained: “To vote is not only one’s right, but also one’s obligation.”
“It is good that the election is taking place, but the process is not organized well,” Mohammad Naim Haqmal, a candidate that also just had voted, stated, foreshadowing what happened at other polling centers during the day.