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Millions vote in Afghanistan’s long-delayed election

Voting was extended until Sunday in Afghanistan’s long-delayed parliamentary elections, which have been postponed three times since 2015. The Taliban claimed it staged more than 150 attacks including blocking roads, shelling polling stations and a suicide attack, which reportedly killed at least 15 people. Freelance journalist Jennifer Glasse joins Hari Sreenivasan for more.

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  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Violence, confusion and long lines forced officials in Afghanistan to extend voting through tomorrow in that country's long delayed parliamentary elections. At least 15 people were reportedly killed when a suicide bomber blew himself up outside a polling station in Kabul. The Taliban threatened to disrupt the vote and claimed it staged more than 150 attacks today. And across the country there were long lines as voters tried to use a new biometric identification system before casting their ballots. For more on the elections and the Taliban threats we're joined now by freelance journalist Jennifer Glasse in Kabul, Afghanistan.

    First, let me just start with the significance of this. This is not the presidential election. Put this in context for us.

  • JENNIFER GLASSE:

    Well, it's the parliamentary elections. Afghans have been waiting for this for three years. It was first scheduled for 2015, delayed three times and they finally got to vote today. There are 2,500 candidates vying for the 249 seats in the lower house of parliament here. It is seen as crucial. It's the main lawmaking body here in Afghanistan, Hari and these are very, very powerful people.

    And really to give you a sense of why this is such a big deal. This is the first generation of post-Taliban people voting today. You had a lot of young people, 18-year-olds, 19-year- olds, 20-year-olds voting in the election and a lot of the candidates themselves are very young. So it's really seen as an opportunity to kind of reset the whole political system, replace a parliament that many here believe is a symbol of the old guard, part of the old partisanship, the old patronage system that has been such a problem in Afghanistan and they and I think that's why people were so determined to vote today despite the threats of violence by the Taliban and Islamic State.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Also talk a little bit about that climate of fear and violence the Taliban and the Islamic State have wanted. Did it work? Did they keep people from the polls?

  • JENNIFER GLASSE:

    Well, in some areas they certainly did. We know in some parts of the country the Taliban actually blocked roads and highways so that people couldn't get to polling stations. In the north, in Kunduz province, they shelled the city and they shelled polling stations. A couple of miles outside of the city, they actually set fire to one polling station, sending election workers and voters running. So the interior minister says there were more than 190 incidents of violence around the country today but certainly here in Kabul and in most of the other city centers you saw very determined voters. They were up very, very early, the polls were supposed to open at 7:00 o'clock this morning. People were in line at 6:00, 630 and many polling stations opened late.

    As you mentioned, a lot of technical difficulties. And yet, the Afghans persevered and that suicide bombing that happened this evening, happened more than an hour and a half after the polls were scheduled to be closed. People were still waiting in line to vote and the vote, of course, will continue tomorrow. So the determination of the Afghan people very evident in that voting process today. We're not sure exactly what happened in the rural areas, where of course, the government has less control and where people are more easily influenced and that's going to be the real test. But the Election Commission tells us that 2 – 2.5 million people did vote today out of a voter roll up 8.8 million, that's not bad.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    That's incredibly courageous, especially considering that groups of people in crowds are something that the Taliban and the suicide bombers target. Tell me a little bit about the history of fraud and what they're trying to do to prevent it this time around?

  • JENNIFER GLASSE:

    Well this is a whole new electoral system and that's why the votes have been, that's why the the election had been postponed so many times. They actually have a voter roll for the first time. I know it sounds strange to you and me but for the first time, Afghans had to go and register at an actual polling station and then vote at that actual polling station. That is very new here in Afghanistan. Before, you could just get a voter registration card and vote anywhere in the country, which of course left the whole system open to an awful lot of corruption.

    Now, those new voter rolls caused a lot of confusion today. At one high school where we went, one man had been there at the crack of dawn. Three hours later, he was still waiting. Every man whose name began with 'A,' they couldn't find those voter lists. We understand they did find them later. There were 400,000 observers at the polls around the country, several hundred in each polling place. Some of them working for candidates and political parties, some of them independent observers, many just really watching other people, watching to see what happened to make sure the vote went ahead as it as it was supposed to. And then the results will be publicly posted at each polling station. So to try to hold all of this new system, to make sure that is accountable so we don't have the mess that we saw in the presidential elections of 2014 where every single vote had to be recounted.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    All right, Jennifer Glasse joining us via satellite from Kabul, Afghanistan tonight. Thanks so much.

  • JENNIFER GLASSE:

    Good to talk to you, Hari.

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