Polls in Afghanistan closed today at 5 pm local time (8:30 am EST), following a one hour extension announced by authorities hoping to get the reportedly anemic turnout to a more respectable number. It does not appear to have been very effective, however, as the turnout has been quite a bit lower than officials had hoped.
Turnout was particularly low in the Pashtun-heavy south, a sign of Taliban strength in the region but also potentially a negative sign for President Karzai’s chances of winning reelection in the first round, as he was seen to need a significant Pashtun turnout to claim such a victory without a runoff.
Reports of voter fraud have also emerged, with one Afghan reporter saying that extra voting cards were available for as little as $8 a piece. The “indelible” ink which is used to prevent multiple votes is also easily washed off, according to reports.
The long-expected violence happened as well, with President Karzai reporting 73 attacks on polling places. Other reports have voters being hanged by Taliban and roadblocks keeping them from reaching the polls. Taliban also managed to shoot down a Chinook transport helicopter belonging to British forces in Helmand. The exact toll of the violence was difficult to ascertain, however, due to the government’s harsh election-day censorship efforts, but conservative estimates put the dead at 26.
The actual results of the votes are likely not going to be available for some time, given the remote locations of some of the polling stations. The US conceded that the vote did not go according to plans, but insisted it would not alter its policy of escalation.