Afghans pessimistic ahead of 2019 elections, survey shows


KABUL (Reuters) – Afghans are pessimistic about their country’s direction ahead of elections next year, Afghanistan’s largest annual opinion survey said, citing concerns about security, lack of jobs and corruption.

Insecurity was the top reason for pessimism in the Asia Foundation survey, cited by 72.5 percent of participants, followed by the economy and jobs, poor governance and endemic corruption, along with irregular electricity and water supply.

The survey of some 15,000 adults, the largest annual poll of its kind in Afghanistan, showed a mood of continuing gloom and uncertainty ahead of presidential elections in April and moves to open peace talks with the Taliban.

Only a third of those surveyed – 32.8 percent – said the country was moving in the right direction, the same proportion as last year, the survey said.

The level of optimism reflected ethnic and local differences, with the highest confidence levels in mainly Pashtun areas of the east and the lowest in the capital Kabul, the centre and the north, areas where many ethnic Tajiks and Hazaras live.

Some 2,798 civilians have been killed and 5,252 wounded during the first nine months of 2018, according to U.N. data, a slight decline on the previous year but underscoring the continued violence in Afghanistan.

The United States has opened direct contacts with Taliban representatives to try to agree on the basis for peace talks, but heavy fighting drags on.

The survey said 61.4 percent of respondents were satisfied with democracy – slightly higher than the previous poll – and more than half said the government had delivered some improvement in their living conditions.

Support for the government of President Ashraf Ghani, who is expected to seek a second term in elections set for April 20, rose to 59.6 percent among those surveyed, from 56.2 percent in 2017.

At the start of the year, Ghani offered to hold peace talks with the Taliban but the insurgents have so far only agreed to talk with U.S. officials, leaving numerous questions open about the future of the process.

The survey found 53.5 percent believe reconciliation between the government and the Taliban is possible, up slightly from last year following the unexpected Eid-al Fitr ceasefire in June which offered a glimpse of peace after 17 years of war.

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