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Afghanistan: Observers Say Frustration, Complications Led To Low Voter Turnout

In some provinces, more women voted than men According to the latest elections results released by Afghanistan’s Joint Electoral Management Body (JEMB), 6.8 million registered voters -- about 53 percent of the total – participated in last week’s parliamentary and local council elections. The figure is significantly lower than during last October’s presidential election, when 7.3 million people -- or 70 percent of the eligible voters -- cast their vote. In Kabul, only 36 percent of the registered voters cast ballots in the key vote.

Kabul, 26 September 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Election officials say several factors contributed to the low turnout for Afghanistan’s recent parliamentary elections.

Sultan Ahmed Bahin, the spokesman of the JEMB, spoke to RFE/RL in Kabul.

"Usually in elections that are held after a war, during the first vote, more people participate and then during the next elections there are less people. These elections were very complicated. During the presidential vote we had only 16 candidates, but this time we had 5,800 candidates, that made voting difficult," Bahin said. "And there were also security concerns, during the morning hours there were less people but in the afternoon it got better, it shows that people were waiting to see whether the assurances we gave them were valid. Maybe there are some political reasons [why the turnout was lower than last year], but it is not our job as the officials in charge of the election office to investigate it."

Bahin did not comment on what the political reasons could be. But some observers believe political frustration and discontent about the slow pace of reconstruction could be the main cause for the relatively low turnout, especially in Kabul.

Horia Mossadegh, the country director of the Human Rights Research and Advocacy consortium, which groups together several nongovernmental organizations, says the slow pace of bureaucratic reforms and also the presence of some human rights abusers on the candidates list turned off some voters.

"I talked to several people who did not participate in the elections. They told me that when [Afghans] voted in the [2004] presidential election, they expected to see a series of reforms within the government. Unfortunately, these reforms did not take place. The presence of some unpopular candidates [accused of committing war crimes during the past three decades] also caused frustration among people and made them not vote," Mossadegh said.

Several Kabul residents interviewed by RFE/RL believe that the low turnout is an indication of a growing disillusionment with Karzai’s government.

Farid, 26, a taxi driver in Kabul, says that people had more hope during the presidential elections. "They had put behind a dark era and were hopeful in life and in the government, therefore more people participated in the presidential elections," he said. "When the ministers were appointed, they swore on the holy Koran that they will work hard, that they will root out bribery and fight corruption in government offices. But they were not able to fulfill their promises and they were discredited among the people, therefore less people voted.

Another Kabul resident, 22-year-old Amir, told RFE/RL a day after the elections that frustration amongst Afghans was the main reason for the 53 percent turnout nationwide.

"In my opinion, the expectations that people had from their president during the presidential election, well, their demands [were not fulfilled]. And it led to frustration. That's the feeling I get. And this frustration has made people have a different [reaction] to these elections," Amir said.

"Arman-e Melli," one of Kabul’s dailies, recently wrote that the "cold election atmosphere" is a failure for the Afghan government and "foreign authorities" in charge of organizing the elections.

Other Afghan publications have however hailed the elections and noted that Afghans successfully passed their second test in democracy.

As far as Afghan officials and elections organizers are concerned, the 18 September vote was a successful step along Afghanistan’s difficult path toward democracy.

Bahin, the JEMB spokesman, says one of the positive factors of the vote was the fact that in parts of Afghanistan’s southern region the number of female voters increased.

According to the first partial results that were released in Kabul on 25 September, more women than men voted in some provinces that, nationwide, include Paktika, Nuristan, Panjshir, and Faryab.

Peter Erben, the JEMB’s operations chief, said yesterday: "We believe that the turnout will end up being around 6.8 million, this compared to the turnout of last year [presidential election] of 7.3 million. Of the 6.8 million voters that voted, 43 percent were women. This is slightly higher than the proportion of women versus men who are registered, but only by 1 percent. So with the approximate figures here, I would say that we have seen the same turnout of women in the election as we have seen during the registration."

Complete preliminary results are expected to be issued by 4 October. Final certified results are due on 22 October.

See also:

"Afghanistan: The Message Of Lower Voter Turnout"

RFE/RL Special: Afghanistan Votes 2005
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    Golnaz Esfandiari

    Golnaz Esfandiari is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL focusing on Iran. She has reported from Afghanistan and Haiti and is one of the authors of The Farda Briefing newsletter. Her work has been cited by The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and other major publications. Born and raised in Tehran, she is fluent in Persian, French, English, and Czech.