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Clashes, and threats, spook Afghan voters

Polling stations in the capital stand empty as attacks are reported.

KABUL — Election day in Afghanistan began with a bang. Several of them, actually. Multiple IED explosions in Kabul caused little damage, but made the point that this time, the opposition was not making idle threats when they vowed to disrupt the elections for president and provincial council.

All over the capital, polling centers stood nearly empty.

“Maybe everyone is drinking tea, or sleeping,” said Abdul Mubir, manager of a polling centre in the Kart-e-Parwan neighbourhood of Kabul. “They may come later.”

But Nilo, an election observer for Hamid Karzai, was not so hopeful. She sat alone in a polling station reserved for women — only one had come by 8:30 a.m., 90 minutes after the polling centre opened.

“People are afraid, and they are staying home,” she said.

A news blackout by the Afghan government prohibited Afghan media from covering violence, but reports from all over the country indicated that major cities were being rocketed, there were sporadic clashes between Taliban and government forces, and, most damaging of all, polling centers throughout the country stood empty or were closed altogether.

It did not make for a successful start to what is being widely touted as “the most complicated elections ever.”

Results are not expected for several days; the deadline for preliminary results is Sept. 3. Exit polls are not in the Afghan tradition, and most voters, emerging from polling stations with ink-stained fingers, were reluctant to talk about their choice.

“I am voting for my country’s destiny,” said Attaullah Yaqubi, who described himself as a staff member of a local non-governmental organization.

 “I am not satisfied with what has been happening in my country.” Asked whether he had faith in the legitimacy of the elections, he pursed his lips and shook his head.

“There will be fraud,” he said. “Also, these coalitions of candidates and political figures – they are just trading the people’s future.”

The two major candidates — incumbent President Hamed Karzai and former Foreign Minister Dr. Abdullah Abdullah — have both made some pretty serious alliances over the past few months.

But Karzai, the undisputed master of such political sleight-of-hand, is way ahead. He received backing from two major power brokers in Afghanistan — Abdul Rashid Dostum and Hajji Mohammad Mohaqeq, both of whom ran against him during his first campaign, in 2004.