Afghan polling centres plagued by problems as casualties surge to over 300
Problems plagued hundreds of Afghan polling centres on Sunday in the shambolic legislative election's second day of voting, fuelling criticism of organisers and eroding hopes for credible results after a ballot marred by deadly violence.
As voters once again braved the threat of militant attacks, an AFP tally of casualty figures from across the war-torn country showed the number of civilians and security forces killed or wounded in polling-related violence on Saturday was nearly 300.
That was more than four times the latest figures released by the interior ministry.
The huge discrepancy supports speculation that officials have deliberately downplayed the violence, adding to concerns about the lack of transparency and credibility of the long-delayed election that is seen as a dry run for next year's presidential vote.
At some of the 253 polling centres opened for voting on Sunday, election workers still struggled to use biometric verification devices and voter rolls were "either incomplete or non-existent", Electoral Complaints Commission spokesman Ali Reza Rohani told reporters.
"Most of the problems we had yesterday still exist today," said Rohani, adding some polling sites again opened late and had insufficient ballot papers.
Another 148 polling sites that were supposed to open remained closed for security reasons, the Independent Election Commission (IEC) told AFP.
The IEC's chronic mishandling of the parliamentary election, which is the third since the fall of the Taliban in 2001, has all but dashed hopes it can competently organise the presidential ballot, scheduled for April.
"This does not bode well for next year," Afghanistan Analysts Network co-director Thomas Ruttig told AFP.
"The IEC has clearly shown its lack of capacity to run acceptable and transparent elections, instead publishing doctored figures."
A Western official, who had monitored the months-long preparations, told AFP they had no confidence left in the IEC.
"None at all," they said on the condition of anonymity.
"There are a lot of doubts that they would be able to handle the presidential election properly," political analyst Haroun Mir said.
IEC figures show around 4-million Afghans risked their lives to vote over the weekend — many waiting hours for polling centres to open — despite scores of militant attacks.
Elections will be held in the southern province of Kandahar on October 27 after voting was delayed by Thursday's assassination of a powerful police chief.
Nearly 9-million voters registered for the parliamentary election, but many suspect a significant number of those were based on fake identification documents that fraudsters planned to use to stuff ballot boxes.
Yet the fact any Afghans turned out to vote was an achievement in itself, some observers noted.
"The people of Afghanistan showed that they are still hopeful for their future," Mir said.
Speaking after polls closed Sunday, President Ashraf Ghani challenged the Taliban to "show if your way or the way of democracy is preferred by the people".
The Taliban had issued several warnings in the days leading up to the poll demanding the more than 2,500 candidates for the lower house withdraw from the race and for voters to stay home.
The militant group on Saturday claimed it carried out more than 400 attacks on the "fake election".
There were no reports of poll-related violence on Sunday, but officials said a roadside bomb killed 11 members of a family driving in the eastern province of Nangarhar.
Official observers described disorder and chaos at polling centres on Saturday where election workers did not know how to use biometric devices the IEC had belatedly rolled out to appease political leaders and said were required for votes to be counted.
Many voters who had registered their names months ago were not on the roll, and the Taliban commandeered some polling centres and refused to let people cast their ballots.
There were concerns that extending voting by a day could provide "opportunity for fraud", Election and Transparency Watch Organisation of Afghanistan said.
Some 44 people already have been charged with "illegal interference in the election and fraud", the interior ministry said.
As vote counting continued and officials began the process of transferring ballot boxes to Kabul, Afghan voters took to social media to vent their frustration at the debacle.
"Shame on the IEC," Hosai Mangal wrote on the IEC's official Facebook page.
"There was no order at all, I could not find my name at the polling centre where I registered."
But embattled IEC chief Abdul Badi Sayyad on Sunday defended the organisation's handling of the election, saying the problems were not due to "weak management".
Despite the chaos, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), which has spearheaded international efforts to advise the IEC, said the election was "an important milestone in Afghanistan's transition to self-reliance".