Thursday , 22 November 2018
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Afghan polling centres plagued by problems as casualties surge

Kabul: Problems plagued hundreds of Afghan polling centres Sunday in the shambolic legislative election’s second day of voting, fuelling criticism of organisers and eroding hopes for credible results after a ballot marred by deadly violence.

As voting restarted in more than 20 provinces, an AFP tally of official casualty figures showed the number of civilians and security forces killed or wounded in poll-related violence on Saturday was nearly 300 — almost twice the figure released by the interior ministry.

The huge discrepancy adds to concerns about the lack of transparency and credibility of the long-delayed election that is seen as a dry run for next year’s presidential vote.

At some of the 253 polling centres opened for voting on Sunday, election workers still struggled to use biometric verification devices and voter rolls were “either incomplete or non-existent”, Electoral Complaints Commission spokesman Ali Reza Rohani told reporters.

“Most of the problems we had Saturday still exist Sunday,” said Rohani, adding some polling sites again opened late and had insufficient ballot papers.

Another 148 polling sites that were supposed to open remained closed for security reasons, the Independent Election Commission said. The IEC’s chronic mishandling of the parliamentary election, which is the third since the fall of the Taliban in 2001, has all but dashed hopes it can organise the presidential ballot, scheduled for April.

“This does not bode well for next year,” Afghanistan Analysts Network co-director Thomas Ruttig said.

“The IEC has clearly shown its lack of capacity to run acceptable and transparent elections, instead publishing doctored figures.”

A Western official, who had monitored the months-long preparations, told AFP they had no confidence left in the IEC.

“None at all,” they said on the condition of anonymity.

“With the current IEC leadership there are a lot of doubts that they would be able to handle the presidential election properly,” political analyst Haroun Mir said.

Initial IEC figures show around three million people risked their lives to vote on Saturday — many waiting hours for polling centres to open — despite scores of militant attacks.

Nearly nine million voters registered for the parliamentary election, but many suspect a significant number of those were based on fake identification documents that fraudsters planned to use to stuff ballot boxes.

But the fact any Afghans turned out to vote was an achievement in itself, some observers noted.

“The people of Afghanistan showed that they are still hopeful for their future,” Mir said.

Despite the shortcomings in the voting process, that was “undoubtedly a great achievement”, he said.

Turnout was likely affected after the Taliban issued several warnings in the days leading up to the poll demanding the more than 2,500 candidates for the lower house candidates withdraw from the race and for voters to stay home.

The militant group on Saturday claimed it carried out more than 400 attacks on the “fake election”.

Official observers described disorder and chaos at polling centres on Saturday where election workers did not know how to use biometric devices that the IEC had rolled out at the eleventh hour to appease political leaders and said were required for votes to be counted.

Many voters who had registered their names months ago were not on the roll, and the Taliban commandeered some polling centres and refused to let people cast their ballots.

There are concerns that extending voting by a day could “impact transparency of the process” and provide “opportunity for fraud”, Election and Transparency Watch Organisation of Afghanistan said.

As vote counting continued and officials began the process of transferring ballot boxes to Kabul, Afghan voters and candidates took to social media to vent their frustration at the debacle.

“Shame on the IEC,” Hosai Mangal wrote on the IEC’s official Facebook page.

“There was no order at all, I could not find my name at the polling centre where I registered.”

Another angry voter wrote: “The worst elections ever.”

But embattled IEC chief Abdul Badi Sayyad on Sunday defended the organisation’s handling of the election, saying the problems were not due to “weak management”.

Despite the chaos, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), which has spearheaded international efforts to advise the IEC, said the election was “an important milestone in Afghanistan’s transition to self-reliance”.

UNAMA urged observers, political parties, candidates and voters to play a “constructive role in the days ahead to safeguard the integrity of the electoral process as votes are tallied”.

Elections will be held in the southern province of Kandahar on October 27 after the vote was suspended following Thursday’s assassination of a powerful police chief.

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