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Afghanistan Shows the Taliban the Middle Finger

More than seven million Afghans voted for presidential and provincial council elections this Saturday in spite of threats of violence from the Taliban. Officials in the country confirmed an unprecedented turnout, with at least 58% of eligible voters casting their ballots, significantly higher than the 38.8% turnout in the 2009 presidential ballot. Ashraf Ghani, one of the race's three favourites, claims he is leading the vote.

Long lines at polling stations showed collective determination for a peaceful and democratic futurein the country. Afghan politicians called the strong turnout “a slap in the face of enemies of Afghanistan.” Some men and women chose their middle fingers for inking in what was intended as a clear message for the recalcitrant Taliban. International experts, journalists and politicians all congratulated Afghans for such a great turnout and offered wishes for a democratic transfer of power.

Support from all over the world: 

US president Barrack Obama issued a statement congratulating Afghans for a successful election and called it an “historic” moment. Members of the UN Security Council also welcomed the elections while highlighting the importance of Afghan electoral institutions. Jan Kubis, the special UN representative to Afghanistan, stated:

Today was a good day for the future of a stable and unified Afghanistan. Ordinary Afghans turned out to vote in remarkable numbers, defying Taliban attacks and threats. Often in long queues and bad weather, voters patiently waited to exercise their basic human right to vote. They chose to determine the future direction of the country by political means and resolutely rejected the enemies of peace and democracy.

While Britain's Prime Minister urged Afghans to take part in this historic moment. His tweet read [Pashto]: 

Tomorrow is elections day in Afghanistan. I encourage all Afghans, men and women, to participate in this historic transition.

Polling stations opened at 7 a.m. Due to widespread participation and bad weather conditions, IEC extended the polling by an hour to allow all voters to cast their votes with many voting even after this period. Only 211 out of the 6,423 polling centers remained closed. In 2009, more than 440 polling stations stayed closed due to security threats and electoral fraud fears. 

Several reasons have been cited for the higher turnout, including greater public political awareness than at previous elections and more options in terms of candidates. Additionally people voted to protect the past decade's gains (especially women's rights and opportunities for youth) and continue modernizing the country. A Kabul resident, interviewed by the Guardian, explained the high turnout as follows [Fa]:

We want the election result to be finalized in the first round. Our people, government and economy are very weak. If the election goes to a second round, it will be a challenge for our security forces.

Unfortunately, as Global Voices reported April 5, that wish is unlikely to be fulfilled

Nevertheless, a tweet from Bashardost reflects the message that Afghans sent to Taliban by casting their ballots: 

Afghan Deputy Foreign Minister, Ershad Ahmadi, tweeted optimistically that the vote makes Taliban ideology redundant: 

Security on Election Day

Security across the country was tight to ensure smooth and safe elections. No attacks occurred in the capital, but incidents were reported in other provinces, wherein 20 people were killed and 43 wounded. By comparison, the 2009 election was recalled as “one of the most violent days witnessed in Afghanistan” since 2001 by Human Rights Watch. According to NATO, more than 400 attacks took place during that vote. 

This year police checkpoints were set up and every man, woman and child was searched as they entered voting stations. Sediq Sediqqi, a spokesperson for the Afghan Ministry of Interior Affairs, tweeted:

Commending the national security forces for a safe Election Day, Saad Mohseni, chairman of the largest group of media companies in Afghanistan, tweeted: 

 While Ajmal Stanikzai added: 

Abdul Hai's tweet noted the marked difference between the 2014 Afghan elections and the 2013 elections in neighbouring Pakistan:

Complaints on Election Day:

Despite relatively low internet penetration in the country, Afghans from all over Afghanistan tweeted electoral issues and incidents of fraud as they encountered them, a new element in Afghan voting. One much-discussed issue was the shortage of ballots. There were reports by electoral staff and voters that large numbers of people were turned away from polling stations after waiting for hours.

According to Daud Qarizadah:  

 Yet some believed it was a scheme: 

Spoke to a friend in Kabul. Sites ran out of ballot papers in city's West. Angry voters r chanting “No to fraud elections”. #AfghanElections — Bashardost بشردوست (@Quettagee) April 5, 2014

Tentative results

Vote-counting has started and the preliminary result of the presidential elections will be announced later this month. If no candidate wins more than 50% of the votes, there will be second round in May between the two front runners. The results of the provincial council elections will be also be announced in May, according to the Independen Electoral Commission timeline. 

Afghans are anxiously waiting to hear anything regarding the results of the elections. Nafees Takar tweeted: 

Eager to know the results of the elections, Saad Mohseni, the media mogul, asked the IEC, but received no certain answer:

Yet presidential candidate Ashraf Ghani issued a very qualified statement claiming his ticket was out in front. According to his data, he is followed by Abdullah Abdullah with incumbent Hamid Karzai's ally Zalmay Rassoul in third. Neither of the other two have made a statement.

In some other areas Abdullah Abdullah seems to be in the lead. According to Ahmad Shjua, author of the blog Afghanistan Analysis, Abdullah has been able to gather votes in regions populated by ethnic Hazaras with the help of his vice president, Haji Mohammad Mohaqeq.

Margherita Stancati, a Wall Street Journal reporter in Kabul, tweeted the result from western Kabul, also heavily populated by Hazaras. 

Afghan voters fulfilled their responsibility as citizens whilesecurity forces maintained a relatively peaceful voting environment despite fears they would lack the capacity to do so. Afghans are now half-way towards their first democratic transition, and it is the duty of IEC to ensure a  transparent and objective vote-count ahead of a likely second round. 

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