Voter participation in last weekend’s Afghan presidential election will be much less than a third, the country’s Independent Election Commission said Tuesday, marking a record-low turnout.
Afghans voted Saturday in the first round of a presidential race that will decide whether President Ashraf Ghani will win a second five-year term, fending off a challenge from his top rival, Afghanistan’s Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah.
The turnout is the lowest yet in Afghanistan’s presidential elections, as voters stayed away due to the threat of attacks, a muted election campaign and concerns over fraud.
With data collated from nearly all polling centers, around 2.59 million of Afghanistan’s 9.6 million voters turned out to cast a ballot, according to IEC commissioner Maulana Abdullah.
“This is not a final figure, it is going to change as we are still receiving more data,” Abdullah said.
The turnout – about 27 percent – represents a slight increase on initial figures, but still a historical low.
Offensive on Democracy
Authorities heralded Saturday’s election as a success because the Taliban were unable to pull off a large-scale attack resulting in high casualty numbers, and there were fewer technical difficulties than some had feared.
But the insurgents nonetheless pushed their offensive on the democratic process, conducting a string of bombings at polling stations and engaging Afghan security forces in clashes across the country.
According to the Afghanistan Analysts Network, which recorded incidents through various sources, more than 400 attacks were reported over the course of the election day.
The official death toll is five security forces. But in years past, authorities have suppressed information on election day only to later give larger numbers.
Still, Shaharzad Akbar, who heads the Afghan government’s Independent Human Rights Commission, said she breathed “a sigh of relief” that the election had gone smoothly compared to previous years.
“The Afghan security forces really showed a real capability in managing the security situation across Afghanistan in ensuring people have access to polling centres,” she told AFP.
It was unclear how many of the approximately 4,500 polling stations that received voters still had to transmit data, but the number appeared small.
Election officials have said the result would be the cleanest yet, with equipment such as biometric fingerprint readers and better training for poll workers ensuring the vote was fair.
Independent political analyst Haroun Mir said that even with a low turnout, the election could be considered a victory for the democratic process because it was “much cleaner” than previous polls.
On Monday, Abdullah claimed to have won the election, but observers dismissed his boast as premature.
Results are not expected until October 19. Candidates need more than 50 percent of the vote to be declared outright winner, or else the top two will head for a second round in November.
United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres commended “all Afghans who exercised their democratic voice,” and “congratulates them on their commitment to selecting their leaders through the ballot box.”