The South Asia Channel

What election were you watching?

By Erica Gaston Election officials and politicians have been describing the Afghan elections as a qualified success. Yet with widespread reports of heightened violence and low voter turnout across the country I have to ask: What election were you watching? Because the one I followed yesterday is shaping up to be a qualified mess.  In ...

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By Erica Gaston

Election officials and politicians have been describing the Afghan elections as a qualified success. Yet with widespread reports of heightened violence and low voter turnout across the country I have to ask: What election were you watching? Because the one I followed yesterday is shaping up to be a qualified mess. 

By Erica Gaston

Election officials and politicians have been describing the Afghan elections as a qualified success. Yet with widespread reports of heightened violence and low voter turnout across the country I have to ask: What election were you watching? Because the one I followed yesterday is shaping up to be a qualified mess. 

In terms of security, rocket attacks, armed clashes, IEDs, and other violence were reported in Kabul, Kandahar, and Lashkarga. More serious armed clashes took place in Logar, Wardak, and Baghlan provinces. A journalist returning from Wardak told me it was the scariest thing he’s seen since arriving in Afghanistan.  Other sporadic incidents, particularly attacks on polling stations, occurred in provinces countrywide.

That this level of violence killed nine civilians, and not more, seems less due to effective security precautions than to pure luck, Afghan caution in avoiding polling stations in the morning, or (possibly) the Taliban’s own restraint in its attacks (is this an example of Mullah Omar’s pledge to reduce civilian casualties under the new Taliban “Code of Conduct“?).

In terms of Afghan “buy-in” or participation in the election, the evidence is even more troubling. Many Afghans did not go to the polls because of security fears, particularly in the south, but an equal number seem to have opted out because they weren’t convinced their vote mattered. While voter turnout was lowest in insecure areas, according to election-day observers, voter turnout also plummeted in secure areas, like Mazar-i Sharif. 

Many Afghans I spoke to in the last few weeks said they would not vote because they assumed the election would be rigged for incumbent President Hamid Karzai (The Times of London makes a great case for that theory here). Others said they would not vote because they did not think any of the candidates would be able to reverse rampant corruption, criminal activity, and insecurity in Afghanistan.

While the nightmare scenario many election officials feared did not happen yesterday, packaging this election as a success story is going to be a hard sell, especially with fraud charges and vote challenges already on the horizon.

Erica Gaston is a human rights lawyer based in Kabul, Afghanistan, consulting on civilian casualties issues for the Open Society Institute.  

PEDRO UGARTE/AFP/Getty Images

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