Afghan presidential vote held in relative calm, but turnout low

KABUL: Tight security ensured Afghanistan’s presidential election was held on Saturday in relative calm, though several small attacks, low turnout and complaints about the voting system heightened fears an unclear result could drive the country into further chaos.

Preliminary results are not expected before October 17 and final results not until Nov. 7. If no candidate gets 51% of the vote, a second round will be held between the two leading candidates.

Taliban fighters attacked several polling stations across the country to try to derail the process, but intense security prevented the large-scale violence of previous polls.

“This election was the healthiest and fairest election in comparison to the previous elections,” said Hawa Alam Nuristani, head of country’s Independent Election Commission (IEC), after the voting concluded.

Ten of thousands of Afghans braved the threat of militant attacks and delays at polling booths to vote in the election, a major test of the Western-backed government’s ability to protect democracy against Taliban attempts to derail it.

Two policemen and one civilian were killed in mostly small-scale Taliban attacks, the defense ministry said, adding 37 people were injured. Tens of thousands of troops were deployed to try to protect voters and polling stations.

IEC officials did not immediately share the details on turnout, but Western diplomats in Kabul estimated it was low due to fears of violence and delays caused by polling officials.

Voting was extended by two hours after technical problems delayed the opening of some polling stations around the country.

Independent election observers and activists said a slow pace to voting triggered confusion at some polling stations, with long queues forming outside.

Some observers feared the Taliban had forced a partial shutdown to upset the final results as the IEC, without giving a reason, said it had failed to establish contact with 901 of the 4,942 polling centers.

The hardline group had warned the more than nine million registered voters to stay at home or face dire consequences. Saturday’s presidential vote is the fourth since the Taliban was toppled.

Over a dozen candidates are vying for the presidency, led by incumbent Ashraf Ghani and his former deputy Abdullah Abdullah.

The winner will play a crucial role in the country’s quest to end the war with the Taliban and any resumption of talks between the militant Islamist group and the United States, which were called off this month.

The Transparent Election Foundation of Afghanistan said early turnout was “very poor”, in part due to the requirement for voters to be photographed, to which female voters in conservative areas objected.

Hundreds of voters complained their names were missing from voters’ lists or the biometric devices used to prevent fraud. Addressing those concerns, the IEC eased restrictions, allowing anyone with election stickers on their national identity cards to vote.

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