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Afghanistan Held Its 4th Presidential Election On Saturday


Afghanistan is counting the votes from a presidential election. People voted on Saturday where they could. Polling stations in Taliban-controlled areas were not open, we're told. President Ashraf Ghani is seeking reelection against veteran Afghan politician Abdullah Abdullah, the figure who has reluctantly shared power with Ghani since disputed elections five years ago. Reporter Jennifer Glasse is covering all this in Kabul. She's on the line. And we should warn that there's a bit of a delay here. Jennifer, how free and fair were these elections as you witnessed them?

JENNIFER GLASSE, BYLINE: Well, you know, the election commission says they're the best elections the country has held so far. There were a lot of allegations of fraud heading into it. And they have put a lot of things in place, including voter lists, so you had to vote at the place where you were registered. There was also biometric verification, as well as photo taking. But we are seeing on social media, which is the way so many Afghans communicate here, allegations that there is some irregularity in the vote counting right now. We've seen these kind of allegations back and forth. The real concern I think, Steve, has been the terribly low voter turnout. Right now, they say about 2.1 out of 9.6 million voters went to the polls with about nine - with about 700 polling stations - the numbers to come in. But that is very, very low. That's just a little over 20%.

INSKEEP: Wow. Does that reflect a loss of faith in President Ghani, who's seeking reelection?

GLASSE: I think it's a combination of things. You know, the Taliban had threatened this vote. And we saw attacks immediately from the (inaudible) around the country in a number of provinces, grenades thrown at polling stations. We saw rocks fired at polling stations (inaudible). They have kept some people away. Twenty five hundred polling stations didn't open at all because they were in Taliban-controlled areas or because they were in areas that were otherwise considered a security risk by the Afghan government forces. And also there was a lot of apathy here. There's a lot of people feeling because of these allegations of corruption perhaps their vote wouldn't count at all. And I think that kept people away as well.

INSKEEP: Wow, 2,500 polling stations closed. That's - it sounds quite a lot. I want to ask about another factor here. Americans have followed the U.S.-led effort to make peace with the Taliban or maybe not peace but make some kind of a partial deal with the Taliban, negotiations from which the Afghan government at least in the early phases had been excluded. How has the failure of that effort colored the campaign going on at the same time in Afghanistan?

GLASSE: Well, you know, the campaign launched at the end of July. But the Taliban talks were going on. It looked like they were (inaudible) in August, so a lot of people, Steve, didn't think that this election was going to happen at all. And so a lot of candidates - and there were 15 - well, there were initially 18 candidates in the running; 15 ended up finally running for election. A lot of the candidates didn't really campaign because they didn't think this election was going to go ahead. Of course, those talks broke down earlier this month with the cancellation of a Taliban visit to Camp David. And President Ghani was supposed to go to Camp David. Afghans have been very, very disappointed that they were not included in those talks at all. And that's what they're hoping, that some sort of - that this election will bring some sort of stability and that some sort of peace process between Afghans - between Afghans and the Taliban can go forward.

INSKEEP: Jennifer, thanks for the update, really appreciate it.


INSKEEP: Jennifer Glasse is speaking with us from Kabul. In Afghanistan, a presidential election was conducted over the weekend, and we are awaiting the results.

(SOUNDBITE OF TOR'S "GLASS AND STONE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.