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Afghans vote amid fears of violence and alleged irregularities

Presidential candidates in Afghanistan lodged accusations of fraud as polls came to a close on Saturday, with preliminary results expected in October. An earlier wave of violent Taliban attacks led to low voter turnout across the country. Craig Nelson, Kabul bureau chief for The Wall Street Journal, joins Hari Sreenivasan to discuss.

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  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Some presidential candidates in the Afghan election are already charging it was a fraudulent process. Taliban attacks also decreased turnout for some polling places to stay closed.

    Joining us now via Skype is Craig Nelson, Kabul bureau chief for The Wall Street Journal.

    First, it is unfortunately common for people to say that the process is fraudulent but from what you can tell and all the different monitors that are on the ground, is this been a fair process so far today?

  • Craig Nelson:

    It's really not clear. I think there has been some problems with process, just the votes, the staff, the electoral staff has. We went to elect a polling station this morning at 7 o'clock when the polls opened and the electoral start wasn't even there. And these are usual problems, there is a problem this afternoon with voting lists at another polling station where people came in and looked for their, they thought they'd registered, they were sure they registered, they had proof that they're registered but they couldn't find their names on the voting list. So is that fraud or is that simple the kind of sort of inefficiency and ineptitude that is or characterized Afghanistan election for a very long time. I think there'll be other people that will make that determination.

    I think the biggest problem today is voter turnout. Voter turnout seems to have been extremely low. And privately President Ghani's people are talking about a million, possibly a million, million five voter turnout and that of a possible registered voters at 9.6 million. And that's a very very small turnout and that's going to cause as much as anything the kind of political crisis that could be coming around the bend.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    So does that mean that he has less of a mandate at the negotiating table with the Taliban?

  • Craig Nelson:

    Exactly. Exactly. He might have to go to a second round which will weaken him even further. And of course he talks about wanting to lead the peace process now that President Trump has tweeted an end to U.S. – Taliban negotiations. President Ghani wants to lead those and he's going to he could potentially go into that very very week.

    I mean, we saw, for example we went 50 miles north of Kabul today and we went to a polling center where there were 360 women registered to vote and five hours after the polls it opened only four women had voted. This is a case where a lot of people seem to be saying this vote is irrelevant for us and that's a real serious setback for this government which is going to try to be negotiating a deal with the Taliban and certainly the United States which has invested roughly a trillion dollars at least in trying to get Afghanistan some democratic institutions established in Afghanistan.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    So in a way then, did the Taliban succeed in intimidating enough people to stay away from the polls whether it was through the violence that was leading up to this or just the actual result today if all these women or men don't show up?

  • Craig Nelson:

    Yes I think that fears, we were told by one voter after another that their neighbors didn't show up. One out of fears for their security and two out of apathy.

    And there was one positive note here is that there were no big suicide bombings or big complex attacks and vehicle bombs followed by gunfights. The Taliban didn't do that and that's a sort of a small success in this whole thing because everybody did fear something like that. But the Afghan government put 75,000 troops around the country to guard polling stations. And that seems to have been quite successful.

    But in the long term the voter turnout, the problem with voter turnout, the low apparently low voter turnout is is going to cause a very big problem for this government.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    All right. Craig Nelson the Kabul bureau chief for The Wall Street Journal joining us via Skype tonight. Thanks so much.

  • Craig Nelson:

    Welcome.

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