Afghanistan Holds Legislative Elections
SHEILAH KAST, host:
In Afghanistan this weekend, there was more violence leading up to today's voting, and Pakistan tightened security along its border to keep Taliban militants from disrupting Afghanistan's first free legislative elections in three decades. More than 12 million Afghans registered to choose from more than 5,700 candidates for seats in parliament and in provincial assemblies. In the run-up to the voting, several candidates and election workers were killed in attacks. NPR's Philip Reeves is in Afghanistan. He traveled north of the capital of Kabul today to the Hindu Kush. We spoke with him from there earlier today. In spite of recent violence, from what he had seen, voting went smoothly.
PHILIP REEVES reporting:
Here in the Hindu Kush mountains, in the Panjshir Valley, the atmosphere is pretty positive. We visited polling stations on the road up here from Kabul and in all of those the atmosphere was orderly. There were a number of observers, most of them representing candidates for these elections, and they had no serious complaints. A couple of quibbles were offered. For example, a few missing ballot papers here and there. But it does seem as if this election in this part of Afghanistan is going smoothly.
KAST: You're in the Hindu Kush. Describe the region and the town that you're in.
REEVES: Well, this is the Panjshir Valley, which is, of course, one of the strongholds of the Mujahadeen resistance to the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan back in the 1980s, and then it became a stronghold of resistance to the Taliban when they were in power in Kabul. It's a Tajik area, and that's significant, because Tajiks have been traveling up here, according to people we've been speaking to, from Kabul, making a two-hour journey in order to vote here at their home in Panjshir Valley. There is a feeling amongst the Tajiks that they're not represented sufficiently in central government so they are taking this opportunity to try to build themselves some bloc within the parliament of the country although they concede parliament may not end up being very powerful.
KAST: There are women running in this election. What are their prospects in such a conservative society?
REEVES: It depends on which area you are speaking about. Here in the Panjshir Valley with--this very mountainous area, Tajik area, we haven't seen much evidence of women voting in large numbers, although we did notice that as we traveled up through the area north of Kabul, there were women voting there in significant numbers. It is, of course, not an easy place for women to assert their democratic rights. They have separate polling stations, but they have been set aside seats within the parliament. More than a quarter of the seats, in fact, within the lower house of parliament are assigned for women.
KAST: And when are election results expected?
REEVES: They're going to begin counting in two days' time. But it will take some time for the results to emerge. It's expected that they will release some provisional results after they've counted a certain percentage of the poll and then towards mid to late October, we'll see final results. There's concern, though, amongst election officials that because of the large number of candidates that are running, it'll mean there'll be lots of losers. And they're anxious about how people will react to the discovery that they haven't made it to the lower house of parliament or, indeed, to the provincial councils that are also being elected today.
KAST: NPR's Philip Reeves in the Hindu Kush of Afghanistan. Thank you, Philip.
REEVES: You're welcome.
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