Friday, August 21, 2009

Registered voters in Afghanistan went to the polls on Thursday to cast their votes for President. Although the election was marred by violence, it was largely hailed as successful. The Taliban has refused to recognize the election and has previously vowed to disrupt them.

“We had what appears to be a successful election in Afghanistan, despite the Taliban’s efforts to disrupt it,” said United States President Barack Obama in a live radio broadcast from the White House.

At least 26 people were killed in election related violence, including eight in a town near Baghlan where Taliban fighters reportedly prevented the polls from opening. Elsewhere, regional capitals were hit with rocket fire.

A United Nations spokesperson in the national capital of Kabul said that the situation was “better than we feared” and that the level of security had “allowed people to take part in the elections”.

There are conflicting report on the level of voter turnout. Zekria Barakzai, an election official, told Associated Press that he estimated 40 to 50% participation. Meanwhile, the director of Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission, Azizullah Loudin, claimed on television that turnout had been “high”. The 2004 election had a reported 70% turnout.

In early returns, some districts, such as those in Nangarhar, reported no voters at all.

“The Afghan people dared rockets, bombs and intimidations,” incumbent President Hamid Karzai said to the press. “We’ll see what the turnout was. But they came out to vote. That’s great.”

Abdullah Abdullah, widely regarded as the leading challenger to Karzai, said “It is a day of change, a day of hope,” but his campaign manager already alleged voter fraud within hours of the closing of the polls.

Another candidate, Ramazan Bashardost, urged a halt to the election. “This is not an election, this is a comedy,” he said.