Accessibility links

Breaking News

Turnout High, Ballot Papers Low In Afghan Election

Many Afghan voters seem to have waited in long lines for nothing.
Many Afghan voters seem to have waited in long lines for nothing.
Afghan voters braved heavy rains, long lines, and the threat of Taliban attacks to cast ballots in what appears unprecedented numbers in the April 5 presidential election.

But many ended up going home disappointed. The reason: Not enough ballots.

According to some reports, there have been ballot shortages in as many as 15 of the country's 34 provinces. There were even shortages in the capital, Kabul.

The high turnout on April 5 appeared to catch many election organizers off-guard. In the 2009 election, turnout was low, with approximately one-third of eligible voters casting ballots. Turnout figures for this year's vote are not yet available. But Afghan election officials say it was high.

The shortage of ballots actually appears to have been a calculated move.

In an effort to prevent the widespread fraud and ballot-box stuffing critics allege took place five years ago -- when due to the low turnout, there was an excess of ballots -- each polling station was limited to only 600 this time.

Officials estimated that this would have been enough. But many polling stations, especially in the major urban centers, attracted thousands of people.

RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan correspondents reported that around the country people were angrily leaving polling stations after spending hours waiting in line, some in rain and others in snow.

Officials in the southern Kandahar Province lamented that the region had "1 million registered voters but received only 600,000 ballots."

It is unclear exactly how many voters were affected but people on the ground say it was in the thousands.

The ballot shortage has split Afghans. Some said it would help reduce fraud through ballot-box stuffing. "Running out of ballot paper deprives the fraudsters of [the possibility of] stuffing boxes with leftover ballot papers," Saad Mohseni, director of the MOBY Group, one of Afghanistan's largest media companies, wrote on Twitter. Leftover ballots, he added, were the reason "fraud was out control last time around."

Others like Sayed SalaHuddin, an Afghan reporter for "The Washington Post" in Kabul, said the shortage could put the legitimacy of the vote under question. "I hope this does not become an excuse for loser [sic] candidates & affect the legitimacy of the poll," he tweeted.

That view was shared by many, including Hazratshah Kayan, a resident of the eastern city of Jalalabad, who tweeted that the election would now be "under question."

-- Frud Bezhan