Afghans shut out by polling station chaos return to vote

KABUL: Afghans unable to vote in Saturday’s parliamentary election because hundreds of polling stations failed to open were given another chance to cast their ballot on Sunday after the authorities extended voting for another day.
With the Taliban operating freely across much of the country and heavy pressure from international partners for the vote to be held, the election was seen as a major test of the credibility of the government.
Around three million Afghans voted on Saturday, a larger-than-expected turnout, but across the country serious technical problems were reported and large numbers of polling stations remained closed, often because staff failed to turn up.
“Turnout was above expectations and we should appreciate that, but unfortunately mismanagement and other problems with the commission gave us the worst election in our history,” said Mohammad Arif Rahmani, a member in the last parliament, saying there were “obvious” signs of fraud.
“This extension of the election by a day and a half was in itself clearly something that opens the way to fraud,” he said.
Facing a swell of complaints, the Independent Election Commission (IEC) announced it would extend voting at 401 polling stations, which had not opened, until Sunday, despite warnings that the extended opening would stretch security forces.
“It is not an ideal scenario,” one international security official said.
In the event, fewer than two thirds of the polling stations meant to open on Sunday actually did so, with the remainder closed for security reasons, IEC chairman Abdul Bade Sayad said.
Preparations for the election had been marred by organisational problems, accusations of cheating and the threat of violence from Taliban militants.
More than 120 attacks involving grenades or improvised explosive devices were reported on Saturday and dozens of people were killed and wounded across the country on Saturday. In Kabul, 15 people were killed in one suicide attack.
Many independent election observers were reluctant to work fearing militant attacks but the threat came from other groups as well as the Taliban.
Ballot counting has begun but preliminary results of the election are not expected to be announced until next month.
— Reuters