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Afghans Vote In Presidential Election

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

Vote-counting has begun in Afghanistan. Election officials extended polling in the presidential election by an hour in an effort to get more people out to vote. About 17 million Afghans are registered, but violence and threats from the Taliban appear to have kept many voters away.

In a few minutes we'll talk with an election observer. First, here's NPR's Jackie Northam in Kabul.

JACKIE NORTHAM: The polls had already opened this morning when election officials started preparing ballot boxes at this voting station in central Kabul.

Unidentified Man: (Foreign language spoken)

NORTHAM: One of the electoral workers called out the number for each box which was duly registered by several other men holding clipboards. After that, voting got underway.

(Soundbite of crowd)

NORTHAM: The turnout at this polling station was low in the morning. No more than 40 male voters filtered in the rooms designated for men. Only a handful of women voted in their area. Among them was Miriam Wahidiyah(ph), a 20-year-old law student who came to the polling station with her brothers, sister and parents.

Ms. MIRIAM WAHIDIYAH (Law Student): (Through translator) One of my professors told me it was my responsibility to vote. The Taliban are trying to scare people, but everyone should come to vote.

NORTHAM: Wahidiyah may not have feared coming out to vote, but the Taliban's threats and intimidation appear to have kept many other Afghans from casting their ballots despite the heavy security presence throughout Kabul.

At noon, there wasn't a single voter at this polling station, and only a few stragglers throughout the rest of the day. This was a trend seen in many parts of Afghanistan. Election officials predict only half the eligible voters went to the polls.

Fayih Zadin(ph), an Afghan-American businessman, traveled back to Afghanistan from his home in San Diego just to witness the elections. By the end of the day, he was sorely disappointed with the turnout.

Mr. FAYIH ZADIN: I feel very bad because I expect a lot of people on the street are so enthusiastic because we just saw the Iran election, see what was going on, so much enthusiastic over there. But over here, so much threat, so much scary, every street, every part of the city right now like a ghost town.

NORTHAM: There were sporadic attacks throughout the day. Government officials say police killed two suicide bombers in Kabul and there were rocket and mortar attacks in various parts of the country, mostly in the east and the south, places like Kandahar, the birthplace and a stronghold of the Taliban. Voting was very light in Kandahar, but Ahmed Wali Karzai - the Afghan president's brother, who chairs the provincial council in Kandahar - tried to put a positive spin on things when he showed up to vote at a local school.

Mr. AHMED WALI KARZAI (Chair, Kandahar Provincial Council): Despite those pressure on the population, the tribes, the annihilators, all the pressure of the Taliban who are making against the people. But still people are voting, still people come out. We are very happy with the results.

NORTHAM: Yet, by the time he voted, several hours after the polls opened, only about two dozen men had cast their ballots at that site. And about three minutes after he left, a rocket landed very close to the polling center.

The low turnout in the south could have an impact on the outcome, as this is a political stronghold of President Hamid Karzai. Conversely, there was a strong turnout in many parts of the north, which could help Doctor Abdullah Abdullah, Karzai's main rival. This could increase the chances of a run-off election if neither candidate wins more than 50 percent of the vote. But that won't be known for at least two weeks.

Jackie Northam, NPR News, Kabul. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Jackie Northam
Jackie Northam is NPR's International Affairs Correspondent. She is a veteran journalist who has spent three decades reporting on conflict, geopolitics, and life across the globe - from the mountains of Afghanistan and the desert sands of Saudi Arabia, to the gritty prison camp at Guantanamo Bay and the pristine beauty of the Arctic.