19 August 2009

Counting begins after rocky Afghan election

KABUL, Afghanistan—In the cool of the early morning on election day, the sound of children playing football in the street is mixed with only a few workers erecting a small brick building next door, the cries of mourning doves, and the occasional crow of a rooster. None of the human activity can be seen from inside my guest house, which is surrounded by high walls—metal plates extend the reach of the original plaster ramparts—ringed with razor wire. For our two armed guards, it appears to be just another day as the polls prepare to open at 7 a.m.

By 9:30 in the morning, Reuters was reporting that scattered rockets had fallen on several Afghan cities, including Kandahar in the south and Kunduz in the north. The Taliban has vowed to disrupt the elections and the Karzai government has asked news media outlets to not report on any election day violence for fear it will suppress the turnout.

In Kabul, shops and businesses were closed and the early turnout was reportedly light. The construction activity next door has ceased.

BBC News at approximately 10:30 a.m. reports a gun battle in Kabul between militants and local security forces and that that voter turnout continues to be low in the city. Before noon, Afghan police are claiming they have killed two militants.

Shortly thereafter a police chief in northern Baghlan province is reportedly killed by the Taliban. Virtually no one is voting in Wardak province, an hour’s drive from Kabul, reports a BBC stringer. There are reports of voting irregularities in at least two provinces.

Kabul radio and TV stations appears to honoring the government’s cynical request not to report election-related violence. The BBC News web site appears to the best news source in English at the moment. Our guards say they have heard nothing from the local news media about the gun battles that BBC News is reporting. The university security service is passing along private security reports by email that indicates continued violence at several Kabul polling stations.

An informant tells BBC News at 1:30 p.m. that 16 rockets have landed so far in Kandahar and voter turnout there is very low.

I refer to the government’s attempt at limiting news coverage of election violence as cynical because it tells me the Karzai government is more concerned about the achieving a high turnout, which will help establish legitimacy for the process here and abroad, than the safety of voters.

By mid-afternoon, BBC News continues to report more cases of voter fraud, light local turnouts, and scattered violence, including the purported death of six Taliban militants killed in a gun battle with police in Baghlan province and the death of a woman and the injury of a child as a result of a rocket attack in Kandahar.

Contrary to claims from multiple sources, the head of Afghanistan's Independent Election Commission “insists voter turnout has been very high all over the country,” according to the BBC at 3 p.m. At approximately the same time, CNN reports that police in northeastern Afghanistan have prevented two bomb attacks.

The polls closed at 5 p.m. amidst multiple reports of low voter turnouts and cases of voter fraud. The most commonly reported irregularity involved the supposedly indelible ink, which was used to mark the right index finger of people who voted. However, from several parts of the country there were eyewitness claims of voters washing off the ink stain and returning to vote one or more additional times. Many news sources interviewed people who said they did not vote because of the threat of violence or Taliban retaliation. In some areas of the country, for example, Taliban spokesmen said they would cut off any ink-stained index fingers they saw on election day.

It will likely be 48 hours, but perhaps weeks, before polling results are known. If the none of the candidates gets a majority, a second run-off election will be held between the two leading voter-getters. The latest pre-election polls showed Pres. Hamid Karzai leading with 45 percent followed by Dr Abdullah Abdullah, a former Karzai minister, the choice of 25 percent.

1 comment:

  1. There seem to be significant discrepancies between the reports of stringers on the ground and the official discourse of the Govt.

    You don't have to answer, of course, but "who ya gonna believe: what I say, or the evidence of yer own eyes and ears?"

    Keep yer head down, pard. I hope Oksana's travails are soon past, too...your friends here worry aboutcha!