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Historic elections in Afghanistan

Afghan voters elected members for their Parliament and National Assembly’s lower house for the first time in three decades on Sunday, Sept. 18.

It has been 36 years since the last election for the National Assembly’s lower house, the Wolesi Jirga, or the House of the People. Sunday was also the third parliamentary election since 1964. Afghans elected 249 members to the House, and workers for the U.N.-Afghan Joint Electoral Management Body began the counting of the ballots on Sept. 20. Provisional results will be released as soon as 20 percent of the ballots in a province are tallied. So far, according to Afghan election officials, one-fifth of the country’s ballots have been counted. Complete provisional results are expected around Oct. 4-6 and certified results around Oct. 20-22.

The elections are the final process under the Bonn Agreement, which was created during a UN conference days after the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001 and states, “A fully representative government must be elected through free and fair elections.” The Bonn Agreement, officially called the Agreement On Provisional Arrangements in Afghanistan Pending the Re-Establishment of Permanent Government Institutions, was the initial series of agreements concerning the re-creation of the state of Afghanistan.

According to early estimates given to Peter Erben, the chief operations manager of the UN-Afghan election commission, roughly 50 percent of the 12.5 million registered voters turned out, a million less than the October presidential elections, in which 70 percent of the registered voters turned out.

Heightened security measures prevented any attempted attacks by the Taliban at polling centers. An article released by the Associated Press the day after the elections said, “55,000 Afghan police and 28,000 soldiers secured polling stations. U.S.-led coalition force of 20,000 soldiers and NATO peacekeeping mission of 11,000 provided backup.” However, according to Erben, there were 19 attacks across the country that he called “very minor.” Such attacks included Taliban groups threatening voters by using weapons and attempting to ambush polling centers in certain provinces. As a result, Erben also later included that 16 out of 6,000 polling centers did not open because of security and logistical problems.

In a recent telephone news conference, U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Ronald E. Neumann said, “There was one French soldier that, we regret, who was killed and there were two or three Afghan policemen that were killed.” Of the elections in general, Neumann said, “For a country of roughly 28 million [people] … it was quiet in almost all the provinces.”

Neumann noted in the press release issued by the U.S. State Department that polling centers separated men and women during the elections because women who chose to wear a burqa were required to remove them when casting the ballot to prevent any violations. Despite death threats and intimidation from insurgent groups such as the Taliban, voters still made it to the polling centers, according to firsthand reports given to election officials such as Erben. Neumann said that the Afghans’ determination to vote “inspired people all over the world to remember that the right to choose one’s government is precious.”

“We are making history,” said Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai to a British news team while he cast his ballot. “It’s the day of self-determination for the Afghan people. After 30 years of wars, interventions, occupations and misery, today Afghanistan is moving forward, making an economy, making political institutions.”