Voting was underway across Afghanistan on Saturday for the country’s parliamentary polls that were delayed by three years and marred by a brazen terror attack by the Taliban that killed and injured top security officials earlier this week. The polls opened at 7 a.m., amid tight security and vote-rigging concerns, and are the first polls to be held after NATO ended its combat mission in 2014, reports Efe news.
“Holding of this election is the success of the constitution, success of the people and the democracy,” President Ashraf Ghani said in an address to the nation on Friday. He had also urged the citizens to come out and vote, amid public statements by the Taliban that warned people to stay away from voting. Around 8.8 million Afghans, 34 per cent of them women, will cast their ballots on Saturday to elect 250 lawmakers to the country’s lower house.
There are 2,564 candidates – 16 per cent of them women – contesting the polls, voting for which will end at 4 p.m. on Saturday. Saturday’s vote has been termed critical for the war-torn country with a fragile democracy and will also set the stage for next year’s presidential elections, scheduled for mid-April 2019.
“These elections are also important for international community who has been engaged in Afghanistan for years and spent billions to back democracy in the country,” Abdul Baqi Amin, head of the Centre for Strategic and Regional Studies (CSRS) told Efe, while stressing on the need for a “fair and rigging-free election.”
The Independent Election Commission (IEC) had filtered out nearly 0.7 million fake voters out of its list of registered voters ahead of the polls. This is also the first Afghan elections where the IEC will use more than 20,000 biometric devices to prevent multiple voting by same voters. Besides electoral fraud, security concerns surrounding the polls have been on a major high too.
Several election workers and voters and at least 10 candidates have been killed in terrorist attacks on election offices and campaign meets in the past five months, while hundreds others have been injured. According to the IEC, 2,311 out of the 7,384 or nearly one-third of polling stations will remain closed on election day due to security challenges. In a statement on Friday, the Taliban had vowed to oppose the elections and said their fighters will block all major and minor roads. The Afghan government has deployed 54,000 troops to protect voters and polling stations on election day.