As polls opened amid threats of violence and lingering memories of fraud, Afghan voters turned out on Saturday morning to choose a president who will lead them into the post-American era in Afghanistan.
Election Day dawned cold and drizzly in Kabul. Residents made their way to ballot boxes in schools and mosques, navigating desolate streets guarded by thousands of police officers and soldiers across the city. In some locations, the polls opened as much as an hour late, but throughout the morning there were few reports of violence or disruptions. Voters assembled in long, orderly lines at the city’s major high schools and elsewhere to cast their ballots for their first new leader after a dozen years of President Hamid Karzai.
Afghan voters who have lived through decades of war spoke of their hopes for peace, better schools, more jobs. Using a side entrance reserved for female voters, Zakia Raoufi, a 45-year-old housewife, voted at the same school where her son graduated three years ago, and Karzai years before that. After she had woken up, washed and prayed, she said goodbye to her children and left the house for the first time in three days, where she had been worrying about the near-daily bombings in Kabul ahead of the election.
“I was wondering whether I will come back home alive or not,” she said.
Her son had studied computers and learned English at Habibia High School but the family had no connections among the government elite and no money to pay bribes for employment, so he moved to Iran and is now working as a tailor.
“So this election means a lot to me. What I’m hoping for from the next president is someone to stop the bloodshed in this country, to provide us peace and stability and education and opportunities for our children,” she said.
“We are not afraid of our enemies anymore,” said Anahita Amadyar, 41, who had voted with Raoufi.