In Afghanistan, Violence and Cynicism Keep Voter Turnout Low

Obama Lauds 'Success' of Dubious Afghan Poll, But Is Anyone Buying It?

by Jason Ditz, August 20, 2009

A day of voting in Afghanistan came and went, marred by assorted reports of voter fraud, scores of bombings and attacks by Taliban forces, and a turnout that was embarrassingly low even considering the massive violence that forced polls to close early in some parts of the country.

The 2004 vote which swept Afghan President Hamid Karzai to power saw around 70 percent of the nation’s population showing up to vote. As Karzai seeks to extend his stay in office past his already-expired term, he went up against a ragtag collection of little-known opponents, and this time only around 40-50 percent of the nation’s voters showed up.

According to reports, the government’s attempt at media censorship during the election actually did more harm than good for turnout, as many cited the lack of dependable information about security as a decision to remain at home. When reports started emerging of the first bombings relatively early in the day, the moderate stream of voters became a weak trickle. Even keeping the polls open an extra hour did little to boost the turnout.

With the voting over, the arduous task of counting the votes has begun. But the persistent reports of fraud by the incumbent seem to have left little hope in the mind of the average Afghan that this election is going to change anything, and if anything has underscored that eight years after the US invasion ousted the Taliban, they remain a force to be reckoned with across the nation.

Still, despite what by all accounts was a discouraging day on the ground, President Barack Obama hailed the election as a great success and said now he would focus on “finishing the job.” Whether the president is trying to spin disappointment as success or the bar has simply gotten so low that anything short of a total disaster feels like a victory is uncertain, but one thing is clear: if today was the day democracy finally arrived in Afghanistan, the record violence and endless corruption have long since mooted any reason to celebrate.

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