Ayesha Tanzeem – Voice of America
Afghan officials are counting votes after Saturday's presidential election that was held amid repeated threats by the Taliban and fear of post-election chaos. Better performance by electoral and security authorities notwithstanding, fears remain that disagreements on the result might engulf the country into a destabilizing fight for power.
Empty polling stations and empty ballot boxes. These were the scenes VOA teams found in the capital Kabul and many parts of the country Saturday.
Unofficial estimates indicate the voter turnout will be a historic low.
Extreme threats from the Taliban, voter dissatisfaction with candidates, and confusion over whether the twice-delayed elections will be held this time, kept campaigns from gaining steam.
Now that they were held, given Afghanistan's track record, many fear a dispute over results that could devolve into a full-blown crisis.
Some candidates, like former warlord turned politician Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, seem to already be preparing for such a scenario.
"The elections will result in increased violence. No one will accept the results other than those who were involved in widespread fraud. Naturally, it will result in a crisis," he said.
The process of counting votes in Afghanistan is long. Ballot boxes have to arrive from far off places with little or no communication lines. The preliminary results are not expected for a few weeks. Only then will they get to any complaints.
"The law is very clear. If there is fraud, candidates and their followers can go to the Election Complaints Commission and register their complaints. The commission will decide upon them and we are committed to abide by its decision," said Habibur Rehman, Secretary of the Election Comission.
The last presidential election was marred by allegations of fraud and the country became so divided that then-Secretary of State John Kerry had to step in and broker a power-sharing deal between the two leading candidates. The same two, incumbent President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, seemed to be leading in this year's race as well.
Despite the introduction of more robust systems this time to avoid fraud, including taking finger prints and pictures of voters, allegations of fraud have already emerged from certain quarters.
If more voices join ranks, this could wreak havoc to an already fragile system.
Both election and security authorities insist that they are ready to deal with any scenario. And everyone is hoping for a smooth transition. But Afghanistan has a long history of post-election chaos.