By Shadi Khan Saif
KABUL, Afghanistan (AA) – An estimated 9.6 million Afghans have registered as voters to choose the next government, in the war-torn country evading threats from the Taliban. Since the ouster of the Taliban regime in 2001, the country will choose its fourth president time on Saturday.
A total of 15 candidates, all men, are running for the top post in the conservative male-dominated Afghan society. The front-runners include incumbent President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani, his power-sharing Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, and former Mujahideen Commander Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.
The presidential polls coincide with the fragile peace talks between the U.S. and the Taliban. The talks had collapsed days ahead of the voting, with a single stroke of a tweet by the mercurial U.S. President Donald Trump.
Taliban have warned potential voters, not to come to polling booths and prefer to stay indoors.
Talking to Anadolu Agency, Kabul-based security analyst, retired Brig. Mohammad Arif, said these elections have come as a blow to the Taliban who were expecting a deal with the U.S., bypassing the internationally recognized Afghan government.
“The way Zalmay Khalilzad [U.S. special representative for Afghanistan reconciliation] started publicly praising the Taliban and a potential deal, they were almost certain of bypassing the internationally recognized Afghan government, avoiding the elections and entering a new power-brokering deal with the U.S,” said the former Afghan army officer.
He believes that the polls are a small, yet crucial step towards peoples’ power in the country with a bloody history of civil war and authoritarian rules.
However, there are many, including former President Hamid Karzai, who had been pressing for postponement of the polls, to focus on peaceful settlement of the raging conflict.
On their part, using social media, the Taliban have announced to “prevent this process throughout the country by making use of everything at their disposal.”
- Skewed gender voter ratio
The surging spate of violence surrounding the polls has already alarmed many, including the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA). In a statement issued on Wednesday, the UNAMA asked all parties to avoid civilian causalities.
UN Secretary-General, António Guterres also reiterated on Friday that any acts of violence against the electoral process is unacceptable.
A little less than 9.7 million Afghans have registered to vote. Out of this, 6,331,515 are men and 3,334,230 are women, a highly skewed ratio of 65% males and just 35% females.
As per the UN estimates, about 63.7% of Afghans are under 25 years of age.
Young female journalist, Shabnam Khalilyar, said that she had almost packed her bags to leave the country, in the wake of a likely Taliban return.
“I may differ with President Ghani and other politicians on many issues, but in this situation, I would vote for any worst politician in modern Afghanistan, rather than living with the Taliban in power”, she said.
Associated with a local radio network, Khalilzad said the country’s educated youth has the potential to lead the country, out of the current crisis.
Mehbooba Siraj, a seasoned women rights campaigner, argued that much more was needed in terms of granting women their right to vote.
“Many women are still likely to vote for the candidate of the choice of their male family members,” she said.
Under the Afghanistan Constitution, a presidential candidate needs more than 50% votes to be declared the winner.
If no candidate wins the simple majority on Saturday, a second and final round between the top two candidates will be held on Nov. 23.
The top election body will announce the preliminary results on Oct. 19 while the final results of the election -- where a total of 15 candidates are running for the top seat -- will be announced on Nov. 7.