The Taliban have written threats on leaflets passed out at mosques, whispered them in villages, proclaimed them to journalists and posted on the Internet: If you vote in Saturday’s parliamentary elections, prepare to be attacked.
How many Afghans ignore this intimidation campaign and turn out at the polls will be one measure of whether the vote is considered a success.
The elections — the first since a fraud-ridden presidential poll a year ago — are seen both as a test of the Afghan government’s commitment to rooting out corruption and as a measure of the strength of the insurgency.
Hanging in the balance is the willingness of the U.S.-led international coalition to continue supporting Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s government with 140,000 troops and billions of dollars nearly nine years into the war.
On the eve of the balloting, the head of a voting center in southern Helmand province was killed when his vehicle struck a roadside bomb — a reminder that the insurgent group usually makes good on its threats. At least 24 people have been killed in election-related violence in the run-up to the vote, including four candidates, according to observers.
In the past two days, Taliban militants abducted 18 election workers from a house in northern Bagdhis province, and a candidate was kidnapped in eastern Laghman province. Coalition forces also detained an insurgent in eastern Khost province who was “actively” planning attacks during the elections, NATO said.
About 2,500 candidates are vying for 249 parliamentary seats, allocated among the 34 provinces according to population. A quarter of the legislative seats are reserved for women. Final results aren’t expected for weeks.
The Afghan parliament is relatively weak so the outcome of the races is unlikely to change the workings of the government. Voters tend to select candidates of the same ethnic group and are often motivated mostly by a desire for patronage jobs or federal funds for a road or a school in their district.