Afghanistan held its second parliamentary election on Saturday amidst evidence of widespread fraud, voting irregularities, and violence. As an exercise for democracy, it fails to impress outside observers, but considering the country’s violent past, the election did bring some measure of hope that even though flawed, Afghanistan does have at least a system in place.
Despite over 10 million eligible voters and 249 seats in the lower house of the parliament up for grabs, only slightly over 40% of the electorate showed up to cast their ballots according to the Independent Electoral Commission, the body that oversees the elections. Over 2,500 candidates took part in the election, about 500 of them women.
Afghanistan is unique in its democratic system in that a quarter of the seats in both houses are reserved for women — ensuring women get some measure of representation. A young democracy, the country has yet to have established political parties and candidates often run on name recognition rather than party platform. And in a country that’s suffering from innumerable problems, issues did not seem to be of any significance at all.
Even though 300,000 soldiers of the Afghan National Army and Afghan police along with 150,000 international forces were out to keep the country’s 34 provinces calm, violence erupted early and continued throughout the election. Taliban insurgents had vowed to disrupt the election, but failed to make the impact they had promised.
The day started with Taliban insurgents firing rockets on the capital Kabul and the city of Jalalabad, the provincial center of Nengrahar province. Later, more rockets were fired on civilian targets as well as polling stations in the provinces of Kunar, Nimroz, Helmand, Ghazni, and Paktika — all in the restive south where Taliban control most of the countryside.
Elsewhere, some polling centers were blown up in Kunar, Khost, and Kandahar provinces. Insurgents also managed to capture some polling stations in Laghman, Kunduz, Badghis, and Helmand provinces. There were multiple explosions across the country, some claiming lives. A landmine exploded in Balkh killing nine and injuring dozens more while another in the province killed three. Thirty four people were killed in separate violent incidents in Nengrahar and Khost. Kabul, Nengrahar, Kunar, and Kandahar provinces were also targeted by insurgents using bombs to disrupt the election. The governor of Kandahar province managed to survive an explosion that shattered his car’s windows.
Taliban tried to take over polling stations in at least two provinces — Kunduz and Nimroz — but were beaten back by security forces. In total, 303 attacks were recorded on Saturday compared to 479 during last year’s presidential election. The number of casualties cannot be fully confirmed yet. Afghan government sources claimed 11 people had died and 40 were injured. Independent sources put the number of civilian deaths in dozens.
Even as people braved such harsh conditions to vote, 8% of polling stations either did not open or failed to function. Some polling stations failed to open at 7 AM and others ran out of ballot papers. Fraud was rampant. Fake voting cards — mostly printed in neighboring Pakistan — were sold by the thousands, mostly in the south. The “indelible” ink that was painted on voters’ fingers to prevent them from voting twice was easily washable. Even worse, ballot-stuffing was rampant, as this story by the Christian Science Monitor suggests.