- The Washington Times - Monday, September 19, 2005

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — Early returns show a lower-than-expected voter turnout for the embattled nation’s widely anticipated parliamentary elections, electoral officials said yesterday.

Peter Erben, the chief electoral official for the Sunday vote, said about half of Afghanistan’s 12.4 million registered voters cast ballots.

“With these early indications, I can say turnout appears just over 50 percent,” said Mr. Erben yesterday at a press conference in the capital, Kabul. He made the assessment after a third of polling stations in Afghanistan’s 34 provinces reported the volume of their voter traffic.

In the presidential election last year, about 70 percent of registered voters headed to the polls, and ahead of the Sunday vote, many officials had predicted that between 80 percent and 85 percent of eligible voters would head to the polls.

Officials expect the vote tally to take more than two weeks, with results likely announced in the next two weeks, although it could be mid-October before the results are announced.

Afghans went to the polls to select 249 members of the country’s Wolesi Jirga, or “House of People.” It is the first time since 1969 that a Wolesi Jirga was chosen by a democratic vote.

They also selected provincial leaders among the thousands of candidates vying for hundreds of local positions.

Terrorist attacks early Sunday might have hurt turnout, even though the day passed relatively peacefully.

Several polling stations visited by The Washington Times in Kabul late Sunday were devoid of the long lines seen earlier in the day.

U.N. and Afghan electoral officials, working together in the elections, reported that polling stations in other provinces were packed all day and even stayed open past the 4 p.m. cutoff time to get those in line to vote.

The hard-line Taliban, which once ruled almost all of Afghanistan under a version of Islamic law that prohibits girls from going to school, had threatened to disrupt the voting.

In Ghazni province, lines for female voters reportedly were longer than those for men. The vote was particularly poignant for women, because 25 percent of Wolesi Jirga seats have been set aside for women.

At a ballot collection station outside Kandahar Stadium, where the Taliban used to conduct public executions and amputations for crimes such as adultery and theft, security officer Gulam Mohendeen gestured fondly toward 20 trucks loaded with ballot boxes collected from polling stations nationwide.

“Though the country still doesn’t have a real government, these boxes represent the future of Afghanistan,” he said.


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