Afghan polls close, ballots being counted
Published Thursday, August 20, 2009 1:35PM EDT
Election workers have begun counting the millions of ballots cast in Afghanistan on Thursday, following the end of a voting day that appeared to see fewer Afghan voters showing up to the polls than expected.
The polls closed Thursday evening after ten hours of voting, which began at 7 a.m. local time. Twenty-six people -- eight Afghan soldiers, nine police officers and nine civilians -- died in scattered violence across the country on election day.
A top Afghan official told The Associated Press that total turnout was likely between 40 and 50 per cent of the country's 15 million eligible voters.
Early reports suggested that turnout was highest in the northern part of the country, perceived to be a boon for presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah -- Afghanistan's former foreign minister, who was poised to be incumbent President Hamid Karzai's strongest competition at the polls.
The violence-plagued Pashtun south was supposed to be Karzai's stronghold, but early reports suggested that turnout had not been as strong as in the Tajik north, where there are less problems with security. Abdullah, who is part Tajik, was expected to win strong support among fellow Tajik voters in the north.
Karzai cast his ballot, along with his wife, at a Kabul high school at the start of the day on Thursday.
"I request that the Afghan people come out and vote, so through their ballot Afghanistan will be more secure, more peaceful," Karzai said Thursday. "Vote. No violence."
But despite the president's words, the attacks came as expected. And many voters -- particularly in Kabul where the turnout was down 40 per cent from the previous election -- appeared to stay home because of the threat of violence.
In Kabul, security companies reported at least five bomb attacks and Kabul police got into a separate gunbattle with a group of armed men. Additionally, two suicide bombers died in the clash with Kabul police.
The local violence appeared to be keeping people away from the polls.
CTV's South Asia Bureau Chief Janis Mackey Frayer said the streets of Kabul were quiet on Thursday, and there appeared to be a lack of voters attending various polls in the southern part of the war-torn country.
"At the polling stations that we made it to, there appeared to us to be lighter-than-expected turnout," she told CTV's Canada AM from Kabul.
"Anecdotally, that's what we were hearing from some of the election workers at these polling stations as well. And these are the reports that we're hearing across the south, particularly in Kandahar where voting is said to be about 40 per cent lower than the last election."
Across the country, attacks hit polling stations and voting areas.
Fourteen polling sites were closed in northern Baghlan province as a result of attacks, which resulted in the deaths of a police chief and several officers, provincial election director Abdul Malik said.
"Some of the stations are open, with the presence of our personnel, but there is no one coming to vote. I told them to wait until the end of the day before coming back," Malik said.
The Associated Press reported that another attack in southern Helmand province saw more than 20 rockets strike in the capital of Lashkar Gah, killing a young child.
And again in Kabul, a blast at a high school wounded an election monitor and briefly shut down voting at that poling station.
In Ottawa, the Embassy of Afghanistan released a statement indicating that "73 attacks were reported from 15 provinces around the country" on election day.
International officials have predicted that Thursday's election will not be perfect, though it was hoped that the Afghan people would accept its results, whatever they might be.
Canadian Grant Kippen was present for the Afghan election, working as the chair of the Afghan Election Complaints Commission.
He told CTV News Channel that the overall turnout was lower than expected, but the majority of polling stations stayed open for business despite the security concerns.
"The Independent Election Commission stated today that they had 95, or just over 95 per cent of the polling stations open that they had put in place," he said during a phone interview from Kabul. "So, I think that's a very good sign and people had the opportunity to come out if they so chose."
Canada's former ambassador to Afghanistan, Christopher Alexander, commended the people who put the election together.
"There are a lot of very courageous people who have been working on these elections -- over 150,000 Afghans -- and the fact that they got ballots all across the country, on time, in spite of the security situation, speaks to that desire Afghans have to build a better future," Alexander told CTV News Channel during an interview from Ottawa on Thursday.
Afghanistan's newly appointed ambassador to Canada, Jawed Ludin, said the election appeared to be unfolding better than expected.
"I'm really happy, it's obviously not been without hiccups and worries and anxieties, but I think as it has unfolded, it's gone better," he told CTV's Canada AM during an interview from Ottawa.
"The turnout has been somewhat lower than the last elections four years ago, but, in fact, much higher than many anticipated, including myself."
Ludin replaced former Afghan ambassador Omar Samad in Ottawa earlier this summer.
Samad is now posted to France.
Preliminary results from Thursday's vote are expected to be announced Saturday.
With files from The Associated Press, CTV News Channel and CTV's Canada AM