Its midnight on Friday in Kabul, a few hours before the polls open. The walls start shaking, and it seems an earthquake has struck the Hindu Kush a hundred miles northeast of Kabul. The rattling does little to soothe my nerves as I worry about safety for all the voters and election officials tomorrow.
Today, two candidates and eighteen election officials and campaign workers have reportedly been kidnapped in three separate incidents today.
Election violence is notorious in Afghanistan, intimidation, kidnapping, and murder of candidates, campaign workers, and election officials makes campaigning a near impossibility in Taliban controlled provinces.
Election related violence started back in July when a shopkeeper in Logar province was killed when he put up a campaign poster in his window, and a warning was delivered to local residents not to participate in the upcoming elections. In nearby Khost province, Sayedullah Sayed, a candidate for parliament, was fatally wounded – losing both his legs – when a bomb planted in the mosque he was attending exploded.
The past few weeks have seen more of the same across the country, with the worst still focused in Taliban controlled Pashtun provinces. This morning, fifteen districts have declared their polling stations would be closed due to an inability to secure them.
Al Jazeera English has posted an interactive map to track electoral violence. It breaks down threats into three categories related to the source of threats. The map also contains blue markers for each of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces, indicating whether the number of female candidates has increased or decreased since the last parliamentary election in 2005. Though the total number of female candidates has risen from 335 to 413, this gain has been largely limited to Kabul Province where security is strongest.
Under President Karzai’s amendments to the electoral law made earlier this year,68 seats are reserved for female candidates. That would make you think that there would be little point in intimidating women for running as they are technically running against each other for guaranteed seats. Yet the reserved seats in provinces that do not have female candidates will go to male candidates under electoral law, thereby increasing the risk as intimidation could equal an extra male seat.
Female candidates are accused of being prostitutes and Un-Islamic, their campaign workers kidnapped, and their families threatened. This increased risk hasn’t deterred women like Naheed Ahmedia Farid, a 24-year-old in Herat. “I want to be a voice for women,” she says when asked why she is running for office by an ABC reporter yesterday. “Because there was about 30 years, 31 years that women didn’t have any voice. I think we have to change the situation for women and I want to be a member for that reason.”
According to journalist, Alexander Lobov, “At this point, hopes aren’t high and all parties are concerned with maintaining the status quo. As long as both corruption and violence are kept in relative check, the elections will still serve as a moderate PR victory and the country will continue on its present course.”
It’s a lot of risk to take for a so-called moderate PR victory, but in Afghanistan, continuing on its present course is actually a step forward, especially for women’s rights. Countrywide security has deteriorated over the past 5 years, and yet more female candidates are taking part in this election than the one in 2005, people are coming out to vote, and there is the feeling that the elections, however flawed, must continue if Afghanistan is to survive.