Kandahar votes in election delayed by police chief’s death
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — Voters across southern Kandahar province cast their ballots Saturday in legislative elections that were pushed back a week because of an attack that killed the local police chief and wounded a top U.S. general.
Chaotic scenes at other nationwide polling centers last Saturday were seen again in Kandahar, with voters complaining of faulty biometric machines, missing polling supplies, incompetent staff and fraud.
The parliamentary elections, already three years overdue, are a test of the U.S.-led coalition’s 17-year effort to help build a stable democracy in Afghanistan. The votes in Kandahar will be added to the more than 4 million cast last week, Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission said.
The IEC decided to postpone voting in Kandahar after the much-revered police chief Gen. Abdul Raziq was assassinated Oct. 18 by a gunman the Taliban later said was one of their fighters. The attack also killed the local intelligence chief and injured Army Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Smiley, commander of NATO forces in southern Afghanistan, who has been sent to the U.S. for treatment.
Analysts have said the death of Raziq, a power broker across southern Afghanistan, could create a security vacuum in Kandahar, one of the country’s most strategically important provinces.
The provincial capital was on virtual lockdown on Saturday, with military checkpoints set up and major roads blocked.
“The security is ensured in the center and districts of Kandahar and there has been no movement from the enemy,” Interior Ministry spokesman Najib Danesh said in a statement, adding that 15,000 police had been on “red alert” to protect the election.
In the capital’s Aino Maina neighborhood, a long line formed outside a polling center that opened late because staff had difficulties using the biometric identification machines — which arrived just a month before the election and were aimed at stemming fraud — officials said.
Inside the center, Saraj Ahmad, 52, said his name was not on the registered voters list despite showing papers that proved he had registered.
“We came here, waited and now our names are not on the list,” he said, gesturing to several men nearby. “We showed them our documents, but our names are not there. There are a lot of us, and there is no one to complain to.”
There was similar confusion at a polling center in the Dorahi area, where a woman was yelling at guards for not allowing her to observe the election on behalf of her candidate.
“There are many problems here,” said Shabmam, 26, another observer in the female area of the center. “There is only one biometric system that is working, so there are a lot of people waiting. Some of the women were unhappy and returned home without voting,” said Shabmam, who only goes by one name.
In Kandahar’s Chowni neighborhood, a voter who only wanted to be identified at Fatima accused the election officials of stealing votes.
“When we entered the polling room, a woman dipped our fingers into the ink, but she never gave us a ballot and allowed us to vote; we were told to leave the room,” she said, referring to the ink use to signify someone has voted.
“We acknowledge that there were problems in some polling stations in Kandahar today,” IED deputy spokesman Zabihullah Sadaat said. “Carrying out an election in a country where there is a war going on is very difficult.”
Sadaat said out of the 173 voting centers in the province only one was unable to open.
At the Aino Maina polling center, Akhtar Sardar Mohammad, 62, was waiting for hours to vote, but he said he wouldn’t be deterred as voting was his chance to help improve Afghanistan.
“I think Afghanistan needs 200 years to become better, I know this, but I will try to help by voting,” he said. “I like my country and I love my Kandahar, that’s why I will vote.