Afghans to the polls for the first time in eight years

Today, the Afghans can vote in the elections for the Wolesi Jirga, the lower house of parliament. The ballot box is seen as a test for the presidential elections in April next year, but the Taliban threaten to cause unrest.

The parliamentary elections take place with a 3.5-year delay. Initially they would take place in October 2015, but they were postponed twice due to growing security threats and disputes about electoral reforms. The last parliamentary elections already date from September 2010.

The run-up to the elections was accompanied by a great deal of violence. In recent months, ten candidates and dozens of civilians have been killed in attacks by the Taliban and Islamic State, including at election meetings.

The Taliban are still strong in the country, and even control more territory than ever since the American intervention in Afghanistan in 2001 drove them out of power. The movement is fiercely opposed to the elections and called on its fighters in early October to stop the “American-led process throughout the country by creating heavy obstacles”. However, it was called upon to take care of the Afghan civilians and their property, and to attack only the security forces.

©EPA-Afghan soldiers escort ballot boxes on a police vehicle in the northern province of Panjsher.

Avoiding violence
To avoid violence on the election day, 54,000 Afghan security staff members will be responsible for monitoring the 5,000 polling stations. Around 2,000 agencies remain closed, because safety will not be guaranteed. The voters involved must vote in mobile offices in nearby districts.

According to the Afghan independent election commission IEC, some 9 million people registered as voters, of whom some 5.7 million men and some 3.1 million women. Over 2,500 candidates compete for one of the 249 seats, including 417 women.

Separate electoral lists were drawn up for 33 of the 34 Afghan provinces. The election in Ghazni province was postponed because no agreement could be found about the constituencies. Also, those in the province of Kandahar were postponed by a week, after Thursday the police chief of the province and the commander of the provincial intelligence service were shot by the Taliban.

Also fear of fraud
In addition to a fear of violence, there is also a fear of fraud in these parliamentary elections. Large parties and analysts expressed doubts about the number of registered voters. According to the think tank Afghanistan Analysts Network, in some constituencies the number of registered voters exceeds the estimated number of electorate voters.

Among other things, opposition party Jamiat-e-Islami asked for biometric tools on election day, to identify voters via fingerprints and photos. To meet these demands, the Afghan government purchased 22,000 biometric identification systems, which will be used in all polling stations.

©EPA-Afghans listen to candidate Mir Wali, in Helmand, Afghanistan.

Presidential elections
The Afghans should not only indicate who they want to see in their parliament on Saturday, they can also vote for the district councils. In six months, on April 20, 2019, it will be presidential election.

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