Afghan Vote Proceeds Amid Killings
DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:
Today, Afghanistan held its second election since the fall of the Taliban, this time for the lower house of parliament. Ten people were reported killed in election-related violence, and there were some irregularities. But in a country that's seen a quarter-century of invasion, occupation and civil war, today was relatively peaceful, a step on the difficult road toward democracy. NPR's Philip Reeves sent this report from the capital, Kabul.
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PHILIP REEVES reporting:
At one end of the corridor, there's a line of bearded and bright-eyed men; at the other, women concealed by burqas. It's midmorning on election day, and these people are lining up--segregated as usual in Afghanistan--to choose their parliamentarians. This polling station's in a girls school, an hour's drive north of Kabul on the plains beneath the Hindu Kush Mountains. It's not far from what was the front line in the battle between the Soviets and the mujaheddin, and also the civil war of the early 1990s, so it's seen more than its share of conflict. Dr. Farid Hamid says that's why people here have an acute sense of what's now at stake.
Dr. FARID HAMID: The people are now--they're just impressed with bringing the peace again in Afghanistan. And the people like to stop the war because the Afghan nation, especially the north part of Kabul. They just stop to a 23 years war.
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REEVES: An officials stamps ballot papers for a toothless, confused-looking old man. The man's sent off to a cardboard booth to cast his vote. That decision is not as simple as it sounds. Nationwide, there are more than 2,700 candidates for parliament, more than 10 times the number of seats. Some international observers say today's turnout was lower than anticipated and less than last year's presidential election. But here, north of Kabul, turnout appeared strong.
Afghanistan's constitution accords parliament's lower house significant powers, but there's a debate over how powerful parliament will actually turn out to be. Outside the polling station, a man called Masragi(ph) says he expects it to be an important sounding board.
MASRAGI: (Through Translator) I want the parliamentarians to be a source of receiving complaints and problems of people and transfer it to the stakeholders or to the relevant authorities and have the problem solved. We have got an elected president now, but we cannot go to a ministry to have our problems solved 'cause they--nobody pays attention to us.
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Unidentified Man: (Foreign language spoken)
REEVES: That sentiment is to be found another hour's drive to the north in the Panjshir Valley. Some people have driven all the way here from Kabul just to vote. They're Tajiks who live in the capital but are registered here in their home among the foothills of the Hindu Kush. Among them is Mustafa(ph), a former mujaheddin fighter. He believes the election offers a chance for Afghanistan's Tajik minority to assert their voice in the face of a government which he says is controlled by ethnic Pashtuns.
MUSTAFA: (Through Translator) Tajiks devoted sacrifice to liberate their country, but now we are just being ignored. And Pashtun people who brought all the problems in this country.
REEVES: Afghans brought many dreams to the polling stations today, so many that some observers worry they're expecting too much. Among them is Stefan Danoff(ph), a member of Afghanistan's Electoral Management Body.
Mr. STEFAN DONAL: In all honesty, it will take at least a year if not longer for the parliament to be operational. And the first year will be full of disappointment if they think will have infrastructure, if they think will have a school in their village. It will not happen the first year.
REEVES: For now there's a mood of relief here that the poll happened, that the country took another step and without large-scale bloodshed. Philip Reeves, NPR News, Kabul. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.
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