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Was Afghanistan's long-delayed and stretched-out parliamentary vote a success or a failure?

An Afghan elder shows his inked finger to show he voted during the heavily anticipated Afghanistan elections in Barge Matal, Afghanistan, Aug. 20, 2009. Afghanistan village elders are considered to be the role models and leaders among the Afghan civilians. U.S. Army soldiers helped provide security during the elections. U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Christopher Allison. Public domain.

Afghanistan's parliamentary elections this month broke with international convention, stretching the ballot out over two weekends. Now Afghans are anxious to know whether lessons from three chaotic days of polling in different parts of the country will be learned in time for next year's nail-biter presidential vote.

Kandahar was the last province but one to cast votes in an election that itself was overdue by three years.

The cause of the delay there was a security panic triggered by the assassination of General Abdul Raziq whose personal guard was infiltrated by the Taliban.

Raziq was typically portrayed in media as an uncompromising foe of the militant group and the government's best hope of pinning it back in the southern regions where it has secured an ominous foothold.

The elections as a whole  were overdue by three years, indicating extreme difficulties in the political processes of a country that, 17 years on from the US-led invasion which ousted the Taliban, remains mired in war.

While parliamentary elections were held in 32 provinces on October 20 and 21 and in Kandahar on Saturday, October 27, the war-torn province of Ghazni did not vote at all, and will likely have to wait until next year to send new representatives to the legislature.

Logistical flaws were replete on all three voting days — October 21, 22 and 27 — as polling stations opened late and were unable to handle the throng of voters.

Biometric equipment supposed to smooth the process did the opposite in many regions, thanks to incompetence and mismanagement.

Authorities upbeat

Nevertheless, given deteriorating security, the country's leadership was tempted to hail the vote as a success.

Interior Minister Wais Ahmad Barmak said that 17 civilians and 11 security personnel died with scores injured in attacks on the first day of voting. This number could undoubtedly have been much higher after both the Taliban and ISIS’ affiliate in Afghanistan declared open season on the vote.

A spokesman for President Ashraf Ghani sounded an upbeat tone in his tweet on Sunday, October 21.

A dress rehearsal?

But beneath the celebrations over the fact that Afghanistan managed to stage a vote at all lay several bad omens for next year's more important presidential vote. A key opposition coalition had already accused the IEC of inflating the size of the electorate in a bid to secure the passage of pro-presidential lawmakers into the parliament in the run up to this election.

Subsequently, complaints of fraud and other irregularities featured heavily among 13,000 issues reported by citizens to the Independent Electoral Complaints Commission (IECC), and a further 5,000 issues to the Whatsapp group of the country's leading private media, TOLO News.

In the 2019 presidential vote, when the stakes will be higher, these flaws will have greater costs.

The last presidential vote proved deeply divisive, with Ghani beating rival Abdullah Abdullah in a second round contest whose result Abdullah did not accept until a compromise was reached and he was given a newly created position of Chief Executive Officer (similar to prime minister) in the government.

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