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Afghanistan LiveBlog: The 2nd Parliamentary Elections

EA correspondent Josh Shahryar with the latest rolling news from the second elections for Afghanistan's parliament. The LiveBlog is also available on Josh's personal site, The Daily Nite Owl:

1845 GMT

The Free and Fair Election Foundation of Afghanistan has expressed concern about "extensive irregularities" and called on the Independent Election Commission to ensure the integrity of the rest of the electoral process. 

Insecurity and violence shaped the voting process in large swaths of the country. FEFA observers reported serious security incidents around at least 389 polling centers. Polling centers were blown up in Kunar, Khost and Kandahar and captured in Laghman, Kunduz and Badghis, shutting down voting in the communities those centers served.

Violence by candidates, their agents and local powerbrokers was reported in several areas and so were a worrying number of instances of government official interfering in the voting process to sway the results in favor of their chosen candidates.

Ballot stuffing was seen to varying extents in most provinces, as were proxy voting and underage voting.

The widespread ink failures at the polls caused panic among candidates who feared the ink’s removability would enable fraud by rivals distributing multiple voter cards to their supporters.

The closing of polls later in the day presented additional causes for concern.

Many polling centers were officially closed before the given time, some as early as 11 a.m., according to observers. In many cases, voters were still queuing at polling stations when centers ran out of ballots, and no additional ballots were then provided.

Interference by candidates, candidate agents and other unauthorized person during the closing procedures was also widely reported.

Moreover, the closing procedure and decision whether to proceed with counting of ballots was decided on center by center basis, with no single schedule or procedure adhered to throughout the country. While counting was underway shortly after the closing of polls in some areas, in others it was postponed until the next day.

Taking these problems into account, FEFA has serious concerns about the quality of the elections. In the days ahead, FEFA will collect further data from its observers about the different types of irregularities reported and will produce more detailed reports. [Scott Lucas]

1815 GMT

Pajhwok reports that at least 34 people were killed and 23 injured on this election day in Nengrahar and Kunar provinces. That is almost triple the estimate of people killed in violence reported earlier by government sources.

1807 GMT

Here’s another story from the fragile democracy of Afghanistan....

Hundreds of people stormed a polling center in the Gandab area of Uruzgan, where they proceeded to fill out more than 4,000 ballot papers that were in the polling center and cast them for their candidate. When they left, the center were left with ballot papers so no one else was able to vote.

1750 GMT

Al-Jazeera reports on the closure of some polling centers:

Some statistics from an IEC press conference currently under way in Kabul: 5,355 polling centres opened today, with 542 either closed or not reporting any results. 153 of those polling centres closed were closed for security reasons.

1738 GMT

Further clarification has arrived over the amount of violence during the election. The International Assistance Security Force’s online coordinators report that there were 303 attacks today, while there were 479 attacks during the presidential election in 2009.

1715 GMT

A ray of hope emerges from Nimroz province. After the votes were counted, it emerged that overall, 60% of the voters in the province were women. This is a remarkable achievement if true.

1710 GMT

Pajhwok reports that an explosion has left 3 dead and 4 injured in Balkh province.

1705 GMT

Nick Schifrin of ABC and Pajhwok report on the violence on Twitter:

Defense minister says attacks during [this election] increased by 75% over attacks during 2009 election.

Defense minister: Taliban carried out 302 attacks in 38 districts of 17 provinces on Election Day.

ISAF Media, the public-relations arm of the International Security Assistance Force quickly corrected the first assertion, saying that the Minister meant that the attacks had decreased by 75%.

1700 GMT

An Afghan woman who voted today tweets about the election today:

Candidates brought buses full of voters and stood outside polling stations till they voted and took them back. What a service!

Saba news: A female candidate found with fake cards in Kabul. She was shown on TV as well.

Independent Election Commission: The ink quality was procured in Denmark after a process together with UNDP and the purchased ink was tested in Kabul University.

IEC: We take the ink issue as a rumour since we cant rectify it yet.

(It’s worth noting that independent observers have already certified that the ink which was supposed to prevent voters from voting twice was easily removable and large parts of the country.)

Amidst of the chaos, how to trust the counting process? What is going to happen to the ballot boxes tonight?

1648 GMT

Two rockets hit a polling station in Ghazni province, however, no casualties were reported. In the mean time, 3 polling stations in Kunar province’s Nadi district ran out of ballot papers.

1645 GMT

Security workers have arrested some election observers who were in possession of 1,500 fake voting cards in southern Helmand province. Ballot stuffing has been a real issue in every Afghan election.

1635 GMT

Candidates in Khost, Nengrahar, Baghlan and Zabul province have complained of fraud in the elections. The government has so far not commented on any of the allegations.

1633 GMT

A NATO airstrike has killed 70 Taliban in the southeastern Paktia province. The airstrike got underway as Afghans were out voting. No civilian casualties were reported.

1632 GMT

The district chief of Muqor district in Ghazni has quit over allegations that the governor tried to force him into making sure certain candidates won.

The governor denies all charges.

1630 GMT

Pajhwok also backs up claims of low voter turnout in Kabul.

1626 GMT

Polling centers in Yakwalang disctrict of Bamiyan were closed around noon as they ran out of ballot papers. More than 2,000 people had to return home and not vote.

1620 GMT

Afghanistan’s election has received the endorsement of the White House. On a day when fraud was rampant and security almost non-existent in major areas, US Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said:

“I think the Afghans have done a commendable job in setting up as best as they can a structure for a fair and important election. I think that’s what will happen.”

1559 GMT

Fazal Ahmad Manawi, head of the Independent Election Commission, has told reporters that at least 3.6 million people, or about 40% of the registered electorate, voted on Saturday

Manawi said 86% of the polling centres which had opened had sent details of turnout. 

The New York Times has a different picture from Helmand Province in central Afghanistan:

The streets and bazaars were largely empty when polls opened at 8 a.m., and by noon there were reports that fewer than 100 people had cast ballots in southern Marja. More than 1,000 people — all men — had registered to vote in recent weeks. The population of all of Marja is about 80,000.

US forces fought a highly-publicised offensive in early 2010 to "liberate" Marja from the Taliban. [Scott Lucas]

1555 GMT

Pajhwok reports that candidates in Zabul and Khost provinces in eastern Afghanistan are alleging that fake ballots were used. [Scott Lucas]

1420 GMT

All voting centres in Tagab district of northern Badakhshan province in northeastern Afghanistan were closed after Taliban attacks in several places. Early closures in Bamyan province in central Afghanistan, because ballot papers ran out, meant 2000 people could not vote. [Scott Lucas]

1315 GMT

Report via Twitter: "According to a well regarded observer: security good; turnout good; fraud out of control (namely in Jalalabad, Laghman and Takhar)."

The line of the Independent Election Commission is somewhat different, as it reports that 2,627 polling centres reported midday results with a total of 1.68 million votes cast, about 20% of the estimated electorate. The IEC chairman told a press conference, ""Today's polling day has concluded successfully." [Scott Lucas]

1150 GMT

Voting just ended in Badakhshan and Samangan province, according to Pajhwok. They also report that Taliban took voting material from Ghor.

1145 GMT

Pajhwok reports that at least 9 people have been killed in the northern province of Balkh this morning in a landmine explosion. They also have a report on an explosion at a bus stop in Uruzgan that left no casualties as well as a report on wrong ballot papers being distributed in Bamiyan province’s Panjab district which caused a delay in the start of voting.

1135 GMT

FEFA just released a report on the election. With more than 7,000 monitors in 60% of the polling stations in all of Afghanistan’s 3 provinces, FEFA perhaps knows what happened better than anyone – barring the government.

Their general assessment of what happened between 7-11 AM local time claims that:

A large majority of observed polling centers –4,716– opened on time, while 1,584 opened late.

Though there were numerous attacks, none were severe enough to disrupt voting on a wide scale.

Ink quality was a widespread problem, with voters able to easily wash the ink off their fingers in at least 2,950 polling center in half a dozen provinces

Lack of female IEC staff was another extensively reported challenge. FEFA observers reported 1,062 polling center without any female poll workers.

Intimidation was carried out by insurgents, powerbrokers and candidates at the outset of voting.

1115 GMT

Alive in Afghanistan reports that a Taliban attack on a polling station in Nimroz province was repulsed by security forces.

1100 GMT

Alive in Afghanistan has another report on fresh violence in Kunar province where a rocket attack killed a child and injured another.

1050 GMT

More on the turnout in Kabul and elsewhere: Nick Schifrin of ABC tweets:

Turnout clearly low in Kabul. In visits to multiple polling stations, candidates outnumber by candidates’/independent observers 50 to 1.

But this is a good sign if true. From AP: “West of Kandahar city, there were lines of voters in Zhari” (Mullah Omar hometown)

Alive in Afghanistan reports that at least two polling stations in Samangan province ran out of ballot papers.

1040 GMT

About an hour remains before the election ends in Afghanistan and the ballot stuff story gets more interesting. Anand Gopal tweets from Afghanistan:

There were clashes between police and election workers trying to stuff ballots in Chak and Dai Mirdad [districts] of Maidan-Wardak [province] this morning.

But in other parts of Maidan-Wardak the police went along with the ballot stuffing.

1035 GMT

As if fake voting cards were not enough, ballot stuffing is becoming a problem too. Two election workers with the Independent Electoral Commission were arrested in Logar province for attempting to stuff in ballot boxes with pre-stamped votes.

1030 GMT

James Bays – a report for Al-Jazeera in Afghanistan – claims that voter turnout is about 25% of what it was in last year’s presidential election in Kabul.

Voter turnout as reported before has been dismally low in other parts of the country generally and in the South particularly.

1014 GMT

A voter was killed and two of his sons injured in violence in Takhar province according to provincial officials.

1000 GMT

So far, dozens have been arrested around the country for possessing, using or attempting to sell voting cards. The number of such reports are so large that I could write another liveblog on how many have been arrested, where, how and why.

RFE reports that 23 were arrested in Qarabagh district of Kabul and 1,500 voting fake voting cards were confiscated in Helmand province. Afghanistan’s Ariana TV is reporting hundreds of cards being confiscated in several parts of the country. BaghdadBrian  of SmallWorldNews over on Twitter is reporting the arrest of suspects and seizure of dozens of fake voting cards in Nimroz and Uruzgan.

And these are just a few of the incidents. The question is, how many of these people were not arrested and how many of these fake voting cards resulted in fake votes?

Something to ponder for the Independent Election Commission.

0948 GMT

At least five Taliban insurgents have been killed by a joint force of Afghan and International troops. The operation also yielded a Taliban prisoner.

Taliban also attacked a polling station guarded by Afghan security forces in central Logar province in the early hours of morning before voting had begun. The attack in the provincial capital Pul-i-Alamwas unsuccessful and neither side sustained casualties.

0942 GMT

Pajhwok reports that so far 15 people have been killed and 40 injured in violence. That about matches my numbers here on the dead count.

0940 GMT

Democracy International has some great photos from today’s election. .

0928 GMT

Uruzgan province, the birthplace of Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar is facing massive irregularities. Alive in Afghanistan reports that head of the Independent Election Commission did not allow reporters to inspect polling stations in the province. In another instance, no polling station workers were present in one location. AIA reports:

No existence of election assistants. Some voters in Saeed Abad Lycee polling station are accompanying others to the voting booth and directing them who to vote for.

923 GMT

Democracy International quotes the Independent Electoral Commission on the number of functioning polling stations. Commissioner Manawi of IEC told a press conference that 5,355 of 5,816 polling centers opened today. That’s 92% of polling stations.

This might look like a victory if the number of polling stations were equally distributed across the country. However, the majority of the polling stations that were unable to open are in the South. This means massive disenfranchisement for the Pashtun population of these areas.

0920 GMT

Fraud was expected to be part of this election. Anan Gopal reports from Maidan-Wardak province just southwest of Kabul City via Twitter:

Just returned from Wardak province–visited 6 centers. Massive fraud going on.

Almost no voting in most of the Pashtun areas. In Maydan Shahr, only voters were Hazaras bused in from Kabul.

By 11 AM, every polling center in Saydabad district was shut down.

0900 GMT

Alive in Afghanistan, another essential site for following today's developments reports from Pajhwok that turnout in Afghanistan's second city, Kandahar, s lower than expected at midday. [Scott Lucas]

0825 GMT

Al-Jazeera reports that at least 3 civilians have been killed and two injured in attacks by the Taliban in the eastern Kunar province.

It also confirms the death of 7 Afghan National Army soldiers, but corrects the report by adding that only one of the casualties was a soldier and the other six were militiamen affiliated with the ANA.

0815 GMT

The news of 7 Afghan soldiers being killed in an attack by Taliban in northern Afghanistan is now confirmed.

0810 GMT

More voting irregularities have been reported. Alive in Afghanistan reports that two men in Jalalabad’s Chaparhar district were arrested with over 600 fake voting cards.

In Uruzgan province, witnesses report seeing children coming in to vote. The voting age in Afghanistan is 18.

0805 GMT

Unconfirmed reports suggest that at least 7 Afghan National Army soldiers have been killed at a polling station in a brazen attack by the Taliban. The attack reportedly took place in the north of the country. No further details were available.

0740 GMT

Bakhtar News Agency reports that a candidate who was abducted yesterday in Laghman province by the Taliban has been freed.

Bakhtar further reports of irregularities in several polling stations in Kabul. Some polling stations lack sufficient registration forms, others are overrun by large numbers of voters. Several people have been arrested for using or having more than one voting card.

0730 GMT

Taliban have taken over at least 3 polling stations in the northern province of Kunduz province. German troops stationed in the province have been called to retake the polling stations. Elsewhere, at least three election workers have been abducted. It is as yet unknown where they were abducted from or who abducted them.

720 GMT

Afghan security officials downplayed today’s violence so far. Defense Ministry Spokesperson Gen. Zaher Azimi claimed that violence had been on a much smaller scale and that few attacks had actually happened because of tight security measures. He claimed the Taliban simply wanted to scare people from voting. Next briefing will be in an hour or so.

0707 GMT

Afghans vote and then tweet! One voter tweets of the problems of the election:

Just voted in a crowd of 5 people….

The ink of my finger after having voted went away after a couple of washes….

the women workers of the station didnt allow male observers, while the women voters didnt have any objections of male observers presence

Family members from Wardak [province] report that they dont even know if there is any voting station in their district.

In Baghlan, some candidates have already stick their pictures on the doors of voting stations.

Another Afghan tweep, Orzala, tweets about the indelible ink voters get stamped on their fingers after voting that’s supposed to keep voters from voting twice:

There comes one day in each five years that men use whiteX, a whitening liquid mostly used by women washing clothes!!! :)

She further speaks of hope and shows optimism:

Arianatv reporter Balkh: women have significant participation, so more women in north will compensate fewer women in south!

A significant number of candidates in this year’s election are male and female youth…at least this is a ray of hope!

0657 GMT

The governor of Kandahar province is claiming he survived a bomb blast today. No independent confirmation is available yet. Media is quoting him and running the story as such.

645 GMT

Pajhwok reports that a man has been killed and a woman injured in Asmar district of the eastern Kunar province. The casualties resulted from a rocket attack by suspected Taliban insurgents.

Elsewhere, three election observers were injured in Khost province after a bomb exploded at a polling station.

0625 GMT

Reports of sporadic violence keep arriving. In Kunar province and southern Ghazni province, Taliban blocked highways to prevent people from going to polling stations in voting.

0616 GMT

Al-Jazeera confirms that the rocket attacks in Nengarhar earlier this morning have left at least two people dead and one injured.

0605 GMT

Taliban insurgents attacked at least 15 polling stations in eastern Nengarhar province, but were repelled by Afghan security forces.  Pajhwok reports:

The attacks took place in Dara-I-Noor, Hessark Ghaljaee, Ghani Khel, Sorkh Road and Kot districts, Col, Abdul Ghafoor, the provincial police chief’s spokesman, told Pajhwok Afghan News.

Earlier in the day, there was an explosion in the province’s center, Jalalabad. Three rockets were also fired which did not cause any casualties. The reports adds that Taliban attacked a polling station overnight in Maidan-Wardak province as well, but were repelled.

0600 GMT

FEFA reports that two of their election workers have been abducted. There is no information on where the workers were abducted from. Earlier, it had been reported that two election workers were abducted, with no mention of who they were working for.

0555 GMT

More reports of violence have arrived. Pajhwok reports of missile attacks in Nimruz province in southwestern Afghanistan. The attacks reportedly are underway in Delaram and Khashrod districts. There are also unconfirmed reports of the kidnappings of more election workers. More in a minute.

0540 GMT

FEFA reports that two explosions in Khost province have left at least 5 people injured. Other witnesses report of rocket attacks on two polling stations in Paktika province. More information on this in a minute.

0538 GMT

FEFA reports that the indelible ink used to prevent voters from voting twice is now failing in polling stations the eastern Khost province as well.

Earlier there were reports that witnesses had noticed the ink failing in at least seven provinces. This is the first full confirmation by an election monitoring agency.

0530 GMT

There are more reports of attacks in the south – especially Kandahar. However, most of them are coming from sources that are not always reliable. Will confirm as soon as possible.

0505 GMT

President Karzai and his two vice presidents voted in Kabul’s Amani High School today. Pajhwok News Agencreports:

Flanked by his two vice-presidents, Karzai acknowledged that there will be irregularities in the September 18 vote, but said everyone should do their best to make the process a success.

“There will be problems, irregularities and allegations, but we have to try our best under the circumstances Afghanistan is passing through to the make vote a success,” he said at a press conference at the Presidential Palace.

0455 GMT

Afghan2010 reports:

There are also reports of attacks on five polling stations in Badakshan, Herat, and Ghazni according to the Ministry of Interior.

Democracy International also has reports of attacks on Afghan national army in Kandahar. There are also reports of a bomb in Kandahar, with no confirmation. I’ve already confirmed rocket attacks and bombings in Kabul and Jalalabad earlier.

0435 GMT

Several sources reporting that Taliban are preventing would-be voters from casting their ballots in eastern Nengrahar province. Full confirmation not at hand yet.

0430 GMT

First real problems today. FEFA reports that the indelible ink that’s supposed to prevent voters from voting more than once is easily washable in parts of at least seven provinces and Kabul.

This is the fourth election in Afghanistan since 2001 and in every election, the indelible ink always magically manages to be "delible".

0425 GMT

First photos of Afghanistan’s historic second parliamentary elections are out. Here’s a photo from Kabul by Paolo Maligaya:

Voting time in Afghanistan on Twitpic

0410 GMT

Reports are coming out of Kabul at a snail’s pace at the moment. Reporter Jerome Starkey just tweeted one of the scenes from a polling station in Kabul:

Slows start to voting at polling stations near me in Kabul. Police and journos outnumber voters at Zarghuna High School.

0350 GMT

Democracy International tweets from Kabul:

RTA state television showing Pres. Karzai has arrived at Amani High School in Kabul to cast his vote.

Karzai calls on all Afghans to come out and vote for their candidate. Says he is happy to see so many candidates in this election.

0330 GMT

Afghan news agency Pajhwok reports that five rockets struck the eastern city of Jalalabad this morning ahead of the polls. No casualties were reported. A small explosion also rocked the city, but it too bore no casualties. Jalalabad is close to the border with Pakistan and frequently witnesses violence from Taliban and Gulboddin Hekmatyar’s troops.

0320 GMT

Election monitor FEFA just reported that Taliban released one of their poll workers from eastern Nuristan province.

0315 GMT

No damage is expected from the 6.5  magnitude earthquake that jolted northeastern Afghanistan this morning. Polling is underway. So far no violence has been reported, but looking at the past, it won’t be late before those start pouring in. Let’s hope for the best.

0245 GMT

Polls just opened across Afghanistan for the country’s second ever democratic parliamentary elections. More reports will be coming in shortly.

0225 GMT

Need more evidence of how flawed  the elections in Afghanistan are? Just watch this video by Al-Jazeera.

0218 GMT

ReliefWeb reports that including the 20 I mentioned earlier, 30 people tied to election were abducted yesterday. More abductions are expected as the election goes underway in less than an hour.

The abductions come even though 300,000 Afghan and 150,000 international security forces are out trying to keep the country calm and the elections violence-free.

0138 GMT

The Associated Press confirmed the earlier reports of a rocket attack on Kabul. The AP quotes Afghan security officials saying that a rocket landed near the Presidential Palace in Kabul. There are no reports on casualties.

0115 GMT

The Christian Science Monitor illustrates the dangers of running for office in Afghanistan in this piece. The newspaper claims that it’s not just the Taliban that are behind the violence, but rival candidates are gunning each other down at every opportunity.

“There are some candidates that have ties to militias or warlords, who use guns to try to influence the elections,” says Hassan Haqiyar, an Afghan political analyst and author. “If you don’t have guns or money, it is hard to compete.”

0110 GMT

UPI just reported that two elections were killed in Balkh province yesterday. This brings the total number of elections workers killed in violence to 21. Read full story here.

0100 GMT

Police reports that several rockets have hit the city of Kabul this morning as Afghans prepare to go out and vote. Earlier, a loud explosion was heard in the city. No confirmation yet as to whether the two events are connected.

0030 GMT

Polls are to open in about 2 hours in Afghanistan. Nothing out of the ordinary so far. But that’s speaking in relative terms. Two candidates and 18 polling station workers have been abducted, an explosion was heard in Kabul and everyone is crying fraud even before the voting begins. Hang on tight!

0000 GMT

The New York Times has a great report on vote buying and selling in Afghanistan. The report is an eye-opener for those who have been touting the legitimacy of an election that is bound to be riddled by fraud and only acceptable to those who’ve won a seat. The article puts the price of votes as follows:

In northern Kunduz Province, Afghan votes cost $15 each; in eastern Ghazni Province, a vote can be bought for $18. In Kandahar, they sell their rights for as little as $1 a ballot. More commonly, the price seems to hover in the $5 to $6 range, as quoted to New York Times reporters in places like Helmand and Khost Provinces.

== September 17 ==

2345 GMT

Unconfirmed reports suggest that an explosion has been heard in Kabul. It is early in the morning in Afghanistan. 

2333 GMT

As Afghans go to the polls, what has really changed since the US ousted the Taliban in 2001? The New Republic does the statistics. Take a look and decide for yourself if the situation has improved and if the US has had a positive or a negative impact on the country.

2306 GMT

The BBC does a great job of investigating fraud and bribery during the current elections in Afghanistan. This report goes into details in exposing the flaws in the system as well as the ridiculously easy ways to manipulate the election. Watch the full report by CLICKING HERE.

2252 GMT

In a letter published online, Hizb ut-Tahrir has asked Afghans not to take part in the elections tomrrow. Taliban have already warned violence upon those who join the process.

Hibz ut-Tahrir is a Pan-Islamic organization that seeks to unify all Muslim countries under the banner of Islam in a single unified state. It has been accused to connections with terrorist organizations in the pats which it denies.

The letter, simply signed Hizb ut-Tahrir, Afghanistan, ends the letter with:

The only way out of this calamity is to obey Allah and establish the Khilafah and not put your trust in any kind of capitalistic concepts like the capitalistic parliamentary system. There is no other way out. If you do not heed our warning, then look at Pakistan and Iraq. The rulers in both countries are friends of the West. What has the West made of Pakistan and Iraq before your eyes?!

2246 GMT

A 6.3 magnitude earthquake struck northeastern Afghanistan within the last hour. The epicenter was in the Hindukush Mountains, 165 miles northeast of the capital Kabul where tremors were felt. CNN has more coverage.

This area of Afghanistan is prone to earthquakes as the country lies on the border of the Eurasian plate and the Indian plate.  No casualties have been reported.

2235 GMT

What to look for in tomorrow’s election? Foreign Policy has a great write up from six analysts who each give their own perspective. Great read!

2230 GMT

More violence ahead of tomorrow’s election as Voter Factory reports:

A soldier from Cottonwood Heights has been killed in Afghanistan.
Aaron Kramer died of a gunshot wound during a Thursday firefight.

2220 GMT

The BBC just reported that 2 candidates and 18 polling station workers have been abducted in three separate incidents. The candidates were abducted from central province of Lghman and the northwestern province of Herat. The polling station workers were abducted from the northeastern neighbor of Herat, Badghis province. The Taliban have already taken the responsibility for the abductions.

2210 GMT 
As Afghans go out to vote in a few hours, the world waits to see what happens to the future of the fragile peace that is being held amidst continued war in Afghanistan. I will be aggregating news from Western media, Afghan media, social networking sites and blogs to give you a complete picture of what is happening inside the country on this pivotal day. The blog will stop updating when the parliamentary election results have been announced and verified by the Independent Electoral Commission.

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