Despite less than ideal weather and threats of violence, Afghan voters turned out in large numbers on Saturday to elect new provincial leaders and a new president. This historical event was closely guarded in the capital city of Kabul and went relatively well although a few attacks were reported.
At a news conference in Kabul, Afghanistan’s chief of the Independent Election Commission, Mohammad Yousuf Nooristani stated that voting hours were extended so that everyone in line would have a chance to cast their ballot.
There were not any major attacks on the capital city thanks in part to heavy security forces that did not allow cars on the roads, set up check points every couple hundred yards and searched everyone who entered the polling places. A large percentage of the population turned out to cast their vote despite threat from Taliban leaders that they would punish all of those involved in Afghanistan’s first free and open election in the country’s tumultuous history.
Shukria Barakzai, and Afghan lawmaker said that it was a wonderful sight to see people practice democracy and was a slap in the face to the Taliban and others who have threatened violence. “As much as they try to kill us, we get more stronger,” She said.
Afghanistan’s outgoing president, Hamid Karzai said that on Saturday, Afghanistan has proved to the world that it is a people driven country and that, “On behalf of the people, I thank the security forces, election commission and people who exercised democracy and turned another page in the glorious history of Afghanistan.”
It will most likely take several weeks to count the nearly 7 million ballots cast and if one of the eight candidates that ran in the election doesn’t garner more than 50 percent of the vote, there will be a runoff election. The two front-runners would face of in a special election held on May 28th which would drag out proceedings into the Muslim hold month of Ramadan.
Afghanistan has a history of being one of the worlds most violent countries, however Saturdays elections have been hailed as a huge win for democracy and the United States who has spent nearly $90 billion dollars in training for security forces and aid since the US first intervened in 2001 to topple the Taliban’s grip on the country. However, it’s unclear whether or not the progress in creating a democratic state will last as US forces begin to withdraw from Afghanistan because of threats from terrorist groups such as the Taliban and al Qaeda.
Several minor attacks were reported Saturday, which resulted in the deaths of nine policemen, four civilians, seven soldiers and 89 terrorist insurgents according to Afghanistan’s Interior Minister Umer Duadzai.
Several others have been slain in the weeks leading up to the elections, including several journalists, including an AP photographer and correspondent when a police officer opened fire on the two while reporting on preparations for Saturday’s elections. Outgoing President Karzai released a statement condemning the attacks and has said that he is ordering a full investigation into the matter.
Although Karzai’s exit makes a major turning point in Afghan politics, many diplomats say that none of his successors would bring radical change to the country.
Since US intervention in 2001, nearly 16,000 Afghan citizens have died, including 3,500 US soldiers in a bloody struggle for democracy.
By Nathaniel Pownell
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