Lower voter turnout in Kabul underlines challenges in fledgling Afghan democratic process | VailDaily.com

Lower voter turnout in Kabul underlines challenges in fledgling Afghan democratic process

Associated Press

KABUL, Afghanistan – Only about one-third of Kabul’s registered voters cast ballots in legislative elections, an official said Thursday – a turnout that suggests disillusionment with the U.S.-backed government and the pace of rebuilding after a quarter-century of war.Reports from nearly all polling centers across Afghanistan indicate some 6.6 million voters cast ballots, which would put national turnout at about 53 percent, said Peter Erben, chief electoral officer of the U.N.-Afghan body that organized the polls. But he estimated turnout in Kabul and the surrounding province was just 36 percent.The indication that national turnout dropped significantly from 70 percent in last October’s presidential election had already become a needling footnote to the international community’s celebratory script, which cast Afghanistan’s first elections for a national assembly in more than three decades as a key step toward democracy.Many Afghans embraced the opportunity with enthusiasm.But the low turnout in the capital – which accounts for just under 10 percent of the country’s 12.4 million registered voters – amplifies another message from the people: Move fast to rebuild, boost the economy and improve security, or risk embittering those who already feel bypassed by the changes since the ouster of the Taliban in late 2001.In Washington, President Bush called the election “positive news for the world.””Our mission in Afghanistan is not yet complete. The international community is helping Afghanistan become a lasting democracy,” Bush said.”There are still terrorists who seek to overthrow the young government. You see, they want to return Afghanistan to what it was under the Taliban: a miserable place.”Sarah Lister, head of the Afghan Research Evaluation Unit, an independent Kabul-based research group, said Kabul residents might have had higher expectations for improvement following President Hamid Karzai’s election, then felt let down when change was not as swift as they hoped.”There is no work, no security, no law,” said shopkeeper Abdul Satar. “My wife and I voted for Karzai, but there’s been no change, and prices are rising.”Human rights activists have said fears of violence, anger over warlords on the ballot and distrust of politicians may have kept people away. With mansions sprouting up not far from squalid slums, Lister said anger about inequality could have played a role too.”We need to understand whether there is a growing sense of exclusion, a growing sense of disillusionment with the political process to date,” she said.In the relative anonymity of the city, Lister said, it would likely have been easier to avoid pressure to vote from local leaders than for people living in small communities. And Kabul’s seven-page ballot, with nearly 400 candidates for parliament, would have been daunting for anyone.Erben reiterated his upbeat assessment, saying that in countries emerging from war, turnout in the first election is often higher than in the next vote.Workers began counting ballots Tuesday, and Erben said officials hoped to have complete provisional results by Oct. 4.Vail, Colorado