Afghan voting marred by violence that killed 26 and closed polling places
About 11 percent fewer polling places opened than Afghanistan estimated it needed. Provinces expected to vote for President Hamid Karzai had the most problems. Could it tip the election?
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Security officials said the day would have gone much worse if not for their efforts. Security forces foiled 12 attacks in Herat and six more in Kandahar province, said Amrullah Saleh, the head of Afghanistan's intelligence service, at a press conference.Skip to next paragraph
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In Kabul, the police killed three suicide attackers near a police station on Thursday, and also three suicide attackers were killed in the city on Wednesday. Two police suffered injuries in return for those six kills, he said. "This is an amazing ratio: two police injured in return for eliminating six... this is unprecedented. You cannot expect better anywhere else in the world," said Mr. Saleh.
He went on to claim that officials had evidence – not furnished to the media – that religious schools in Pakistan near the border had shut down and encouraged students to launch attacks inside Afghanistan to disrupt the elections.
In the days ahead, election observers will be trying to determine whether the violence disenfranchised enough voters to tip the outcome of the election or if there are signs of widespread fraud.
It appears that violence prevented a number of polling places from opening across the country. Since transport is very difficult in Afghanistan – during campaigning, candidates had to pay to bus potential voters to events if they lived further than a donkey's ride away – a closed polling center means most of the people it was meant to serve wouldn't have found an alternative way to vote.
On Wednesday, the elections commission said the ideal number of polling places for Afghanistan would be 6,969 but due to security and logistical problems it expected to fall short by 450 stations. On Thursday, the Ministry of Interior said just 6,192 stations had opened, 11 percent fewer than the election's commission said Afghanistan needed on Wednesday.
The closures estimated on Wednesday appeared to be concentrated in heavily ethnic-Pashtun provinces like Helmand and Wardak, and in provinces like Badghis that have large Pashtun minorities. Those are areas that analysts expect would vote for President Hamid Karzai. The higher turn out reported in the north would favor his closest competitor former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah.
Election results aren't expected for several days.
It's too early to judge if the elections were a relative success or failure, cautions Mr. Wilder, who sees the security questions as secondary to the fraud finger pointing likely to come. "Election day is not really when we should expect the most problems." He points out that most of the fraud that marred the 2005 presidential election occurred after the polls had closed. "In 2005, parliamentary election day went really smoothly but the real delegitimization of the election happened during the counting process."