High turnout, low levels of violence, and strong participation by women, all combined Saturday to make the closely watched Afghan presidential and provincial council elections a success.
Over 7 million Afghan men and women voted in these historic elections – representing a staggering 60% voter participation rate, close to the 62% participation rate in the US presidential election in 2008 and more than the 58% participation rate in the US in 2012. The Afghan Independent Commission (IEC) estimates that at least one-third of Afghan voters on Saturday were women.
Voters braved rain, snow, and long lines – as well as potential and real incidents of violence – in order to cast their ballots. Although the level of violence during this election was much lower than in 2009, news reports indicated several attacks on polling stations, police, and voters, and some voting centers had to close because of security concerns. In addition, the days leading up to the election saw other attacks, including the shooting of Associated Press journalists Anja Niedringhaus and Kathy Gannon. Niedringhaus was killed in the attack.
Despite the threat, however, the Taliban could not disrupt the election. In fact, turnout was so high – only about 4.5 million voted in the last election – that the IEC had to extend hours at voting centers to accommodate the crowds. “Of course the massive turnout of women voters is a big slap to all those who want to block us to contribute,” said Samira Huria, a member of the Afghan Women’s Network and one of the many women who voted in the election.
“The women of Afghanistan risked their lives to vote. They are real heroes,” said Feminist Majority Foundation President Eleanor Smeal. “The road, however, is still long, and we must continue to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Afghan women in their struggle for full equality and democracy.”
Women have played a central role in the elections. Over 200 women candidates ran for provincial council seats, the largest number of women ever to run, and two women are running for vice president – one on a major candidate’s ticket. In addition, each of the presidential candidates have had to address women’s rights in their campaigns, a testament to the importance of women to the election and to the redevelopment of Afghanistan.
Election results are not expected until late-April. If no presidential candidate receives more than 50 percent of the vote, the country will conduct a run-off election in May.