So How Low Was Turnout in Afghanistan?
Short answer: Shrug. We don’t yet know what turnout was. But here’s the estimate that’s going around anonymously, courtesy of The Guardian, which I’m happy to see is expanding on the legitimacy question:
Kandahar, the country’s second largest city and the Taliban’s spiritual home, appeared to have been one of the worst affected locations: turnout there was estimated to be down 40% on the numbers seen voting in 2004’s election. Across the country election officials suggested turnout could be 40-50% of the country’s 15 million registered voters.
Atlantic Council scholar Shuja Nawaz has a point when he says (as he told me for Tuesday’s piece) that just holding the election is “victory enough” for the Afghan people. Conditions in Afghanistan are dire. But let’s be blunt about something. About 70 percent of eligible voters turned out in 2004. If the 40-50 percent total holds, then this is either a vote of no confidence in the system or a recognition that Taliban intimidation had a big impact on the vote.
I’m not entirely sure which is worse. The no-confidence vote is tempting to anoint as the bigger flashing red light, because hope once lost is hard to regain, but it says a lot of alarming things about the Taliban if they can only pull off 73 successful attacks around the country but can help depress turnout by millions of voters. That shows the Taliban has reach beyond its actual capabilities. And think about the implications for reconciliation with the Taliban — one of the great progressive hopes for ending the war — if the Taliban are able to hold that kind of sway. If you were a Taliban commander, why would you compromise?