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World

Afghans Vote For President

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Polls have closed in Afghanistan's presidential election. President Ashraf Ghani, who's seeking a second five-year term, is running against the government's chief executive Abdullah Abdullah. The two ran against each other in 2014. It was a bitter contest that had no clear winner. After allegations of fraud and a runoff vote, they formed a U.S.-brokered unity government together. And all of that, of course, in the shadow of threats by the Taliban, who targeted polling stations and warned voters to stay away.

Reporter Jennifer Glasse joins us from Kabul. Jennifer, thanks for being with us.

JENNIFER GLASSE, BYLINE: Hey, Scott.

SIMON: And how has election day unfolded there today?

GLASSE: Well, here in Kabul, I spent all of the day at one polling station, a large high school, with more than 5,000 registered voters. And it was very slow all day, and that's what we're hearing from the election commission has been the case around much of the country. While they say the election was run better than the last election in 2014 and last October's election for the Parliament, voter turnout was very low. And that's certainly what we saw, even though they extended voting hours for two hours until 5 p.m. local time, allowing people to come to the vote. But, of course, in the wake of those Taliban threats, we saw sporadic violence around the country. Some people just stayed away.

SIMON: I gather you were at polling centers in Kabul. I wonder what people said to you there, both what made them turn out, what they hope for, who they might have voted for.

GLASSE: The people who came told me that they came because they wanted to have a voice in the future of Afghanistan. Now, one woman I spoke to said she did wait at home all morning to see what safety and security was like. She said she was nervous, but she felt that it was her duty to come out and vote.

And that, by and large, is what people said they want. They want to have a say in who's going to be the new president of Afghanistan and what the future of Afghanistan is going to be. But clearly, it doesn't seem to have been the majority of people. There were 9.6 million registered voters, and, certainly, not more than half of that turned out at elections today across the country.

SIMON: When people told you they wanted a say in the future of Afghanistan, how do many people see that future? What do they hope for?

GLASSE: They're all hoping for peace. And across the country, that is what everybody wants. This is not an easy country. It is - it has been wracked by violence. We've seen this campaign, Scott, wracked by violence from the very beginning. From the very first day of the campaign, the Taliban attacked Ashraf Ghani's running mate, killing 20 people here in a very long, dramatic attack. Here in Kabul, they attacked a voting center. They attacked a rally earlier this month, killing more than 20 people. And the violence has been around the country. And that's what people would like to see an end to. They would like to see a future where the country can prosper, where people can have jobs. Unemployment is at record highs here, and they are hoping that stability will come with a new government.

SIMON: Jennifer, if Mr. Ghani is not reelected president, are there concerns about Afghanistan's capacity to make a peaceful transition?

GLASSE: I think that's a huge concern. Afghanistan's first and only peaceful transition of power happened in 2014 when Ashraf Ghani took over from Hamid Karzai. And even that transition wasn't easy because that vote, as you mentioned, was very highly contested. And so we've seen some candidates saying that they - if they feel that there's been fraud in this vote, they will ask their followers to go to the battlefield. Peaceful transitions is not something Afghanistan has a good history of. It is a very, very large concern here.

And whether the low-voter turnout is going to have an effect on whether whoever is in the front at the end of the counting of the votes accepts it - that's going to be a big question - and whether the Afghan people also accept the vote, as well.

SIMON: Jennifer Glasse in Kabul, thanks so much.

GLASSE: Good to talk to you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.