HELMAND PROVINCE, Afghanistan --
Afghanistan successfully held its third democratic election, April 5. Saturday’s vote marks the third time Afghans held a presidential election and the first time without current Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s name on the ballot since the overthrow of the Taliban.
President Karzai was chosen as the interim president during the 2002 Loya Jirga. During 2004, President Karzai became the first democratically elected president in Afghanistan and was re-elected for a five-year term during 2009.
Eight candidates were on the 2014 presidential ballot; however, most believe there are three frontrunners, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, Ashraf Ghani and Dr. Zalmai Rassoul.
Abdullah, an ophthalmologist and the former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Afghanistan from 2001 to 2005, was the runner-up in the 2009 presidential elections. Ghani, the former Finance Minister of Afghanistan and chancellor of Kabul University, finished fourth in the 2009 presidential elections. Rassoul, who was the Foreign Minister from 2010 to 2013, resigned his position during October 2013 to run for president.
Polls closed at 5 p.m.; however, Afghanistan may not know the final election results until May 14, according to the Independent Election Commission of Afghanistan, the commission charged with administering and supervising the election process throughout the country. If one of the eight candidates does not achieve more than 50 percent of the total vote, there will be a run-off election between the two candidates who received the most votes, May 28.
2014 Election in Helmand, Nimroz provinces
For the past several months, the Afghan National Army’s 215th Corps has been working hand-in-hand with police and government leaders in Helmand and Nimroz provinces to ensure the elections were successful and safe for the local populace.
Leading up to election day, the Taliban had threatened to attack polling stations and those who voted, and promised to disrupt the election process. Despite the intimidation tactics, Afghan National Security Forces worked diligently to ensure election materials arrived to districts on time.
Despite an afternoon of strong winds and intermittent rain, ANSF patrolled throughout Helmand and Nimroz and were able to thwart off any would-be, high-profile attacks.
“I would like to thank the people of Helmand and Nimroz who have taken an active part in the election process,” said Maj. Gen. Sayed Malouk, commanding general, ANA 215th Corps. “The security forces worked side-by-side with the people of Afghanistan to peacefully complete the elections.”
In addition to providing security at polling stations, ANSF were also able to participate in the historic elections. Members of the 215th Corps were able to cast their ballots at Camp Shorabak.
“The election was great,” said Capt. Mohammad Sharif, an engineering officer with the 215th Corps. “We were able to provide security to the people, and it was amazing to participate in the elections ourselves. We are all very happy.”
Election Day improvements
Much has improved with the election process throughout southwestern Afghanistan since the 2009 election. According to the IEC, more than 200 polling stations were open in Helmand and Nimroz provinces on election day, including 14 in Marjah District and nine in Sangin District – two areas formerly notorious for Taliban influence and where Marines, coalition forces and their Afghan partners fought tirelessly to rid the regions of enemy fighters.
Both Helmand and Nimroz provinces had a significant increase in polling centers and registered voters during the 2014 elections compared to 2009. There were approximately 55 more polling centers open and an additional 155,000 new voters registered. Additionally, northern Helmand province saw a dramatic increase in voter turnout. Sangin District registered only 177 votes during 2009 compared to an estimated 5,000 on Saturday, while Kajaki District did not record one single vote the previous presidential election yet is estimated to have had approximately 3,500 voters this year.
Leading up to Saturday’s vote, the top three contenders to become Afghanistan’s next president each visited Helmand province to campaign, something no candidate did during 2009.
“The elections say a great deal about Afghanistan and about the Afghan National Security Forces,” said Brig. Gen. Daniel Yoo, commander, Regional Command (Southwest). “The election process in Helmand and Nimroz provinces were a huge success, and it was possible because of the Afghan National Army, Afghan police and others. They spent a significant amount of time preparing for the elections to ensure the polling sites would be secure. Their efforts paid off and the people of Helmand and Nimroz were able to peacefully cast their vote for their next president.”
Brigadier Gen. Yoo spent election day with Maj. Gen. Malook. The two monitored Helmand and Nimroz polling sites and the security situation while at the 215th Corps’ Headquarters aboard Camp Shorabak.
“A tremendous amount of progress has been made in southwestern Afghanistan, and the elections prove that,” said. Brig. Gen. Yoo. “The Afghan National Security Forces are capable and confident and continue to gain credibility in the eyes of the people as they secure their own nation.”