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Afghan Voters Defy Terror to Cast Votes in Large Numbers

“Yes, I’m going to vote”

For ordinary Afghans, conflict and terror pose a daily, existential threat. In this fragile context, it is easy to take a pessimistic position on the country’s hopes for democratic reform.

But this pledge of participation, the resounding consensus amongst Afghan students, tells a different story.

For many, this was the first ever opportunity to vote in a parliamentary election. The polls should have been held when the current assembly’s five-year term ended in 2015. But the standoff after the disputed 2014 presidential election changed all that, bringing the country to the brink of civil war.

There was also violence during and in the run up to the ballot, with both the Taliban and the Islamic State group vowing disruption. Election campaigning saw 10 candidates murdered, and on election day itself, dozens of people were killed or injured in scores of incidents across the country.

Yet, despite the immense danger, voters defied deadly attacks to cast their ballot in an election where more than 2,500 candidates are standing. That’s 10 for every seat.

Preliminary results are not expected until 20 days after the election, on 10 November, but turnout is expected to be strong good, with three million out of 8.8 million registered voters casting ballots.

BBC chief international correspondent Lyse Doucet revisited polling stations monitored by the broadcaster during the 2014 elections and reported “even larger crowds.”

“The queue of male voters kept getting longer,” she reported, “there was a crush of voters in the women’s section. So many Afghans told us, “We won’t let the Taliban win.””

All this is to say nothing of the candidates themselves. For those who are hoping for change from the status quo of established politicians, there is a silver lining in the many young, educated candidates who are standing; among them former journalists, entrepreneurs and government employees.

Steps are also being taken toward greater gender equality, with over female 400 candidates standing, and a constitutional guarantee of 68 seats – 27% of the total – for women MPs, regardless of their vote share.

Overall, this election is undoubtedly a step in the right direction. It’s a desperately desired chance to usher in a more legitimate parliament to replace a discredited assembly and try to move toward presidential elections next year and Taliban peace talks.

With the Taliban controlling up to 70% of territory, the challenge for Afghan officials and security forces is huge.

But with NATO’s Resolute Support Mission promising to provide backup as and when requested, and with registration, candidacy and turnout on the up, there is a real chance of progress toward citizens’ dreams of a better life, jobs, education and an end to the war.

For 20-year-old student Mohammed Mehdi Kambari,determination is key:

“Most of us know that every vote counts. It’s not just about our right to vote; it’s our responsibility as Afghans. Most people think their vote doesn’t count. But we must keep struggling until we break this cycle of corruption in this country,”

This hope and resilience, encapsulated in the pledge to vote, reflects the spirit of Afghanistan’s brave citizenry. They continue to defy insurmountable odds to stand up for their country’s future freedom.

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