Afghanistan Elections: Low Voter Turnout Amid Taliban’s Threat

Afghanistan’s presidential election turnout is unofficially estimated at just over 2 million people or about 20 percent of registered voters, an official said Sunday, solidifying fears that a low participation rate could marr the vote.

The figure is a sharp drop from the roughly 7 million who turned out to vote in the last presidential election in 2014.

Tight security ensured the election took place Saturday in relative calm, but low turnout and complaints about the voting system heightened fears an unclear result could drive the war-torn country into further chaos.

To be sure, many Afghans braved the threat of militant attacks to vote in an election seen as a major test of the Western-backed government’s ability to protect democracy against Taliban attempts to derail it.

But of 9.67 million registered voters, only about one in five cast their ballot, according to the election commission official who requested anonymity as they were not authorized to release a turnout figure.

Over a dozen candidates are vying for the presidency, led by incumbent Ashraf Ghani and his former deputy Abdullah Abdullah.

Some observers feared the Taliban had forced a partial shutdown to upset the final results as the  Independent Election Commission (IEC), without giving a reason, said it had failed to establish contact with 901 of the 4,942 polling centers.

The extremist Islamist group, which controls more of the country than at any time since its regime fell in 2001, had warned the more than nine million registered voters to stay at home or face dire consequences.

Saturday’s presidential vote is the fourth since the Taliban was toppled.

Previous elections were tainted by accusations of fraud, dozens of deaths and allegations that the election commission was not independent. Memories of those issues hungover Saturday’s vote.

Deteriorating security and Taliban warnings not to take part also deterred many from the polls.

Taliban fighters attacked several polling stations across the country to try to derail the process, but intense security prevented large-scale violence.

Preliminary results are not expected before Oct. 19 and final results not until Nov. 7. If no candidate gets over half of the votes, a second-round will be held between the two leading candidates.