Deadly attacks rock Afghanistan on election day
Scattered attacks left at least six people dead as Afghans voted Saturday in the country's second parliamentary elections, seen as a key test of President Hamid Karzai's administration and the nation's progress in fighting a Taliban-led insurgency.
AFP - Afghans braved deadly rocket and bomb attacks to vote for a new parliament Saturday, with the war-weary nation on full security alert after the Taliban threatened to derail the high-stakes election.
Six people were killed in attacks and complaints of irregularities emerged following UN and US warnings that security and fraud were concerns for the second parliamentary vote since the 2001 US-led invasion ousted the Taliban.
Insurgents fired rockets in several cities and set off bombs at a polling station and alongside a convoy carrying the governor of Kandahar, the Taliban heartland in the south, but officials said several attacks had been foiled.
Men and women queued patiently to vote at separate polling stations, dressed in traditional clothes and burqas, determined to cast their ballot despite the security headaches and fears of retribution.
In many areas, voting was slow in what is seen as a key test for the credibility of President Hamid Karzai's corruption-tainted rule and the success of the US-led campaign against an intensifying Taliban insurgency.
"I am scared. I know there are Taliban threats but I felt I had to come and vote," said housewife Fawzya in the city of Kandahar, who came out with three daughters and two daughters-in-law.
Tens of thousands of Afghan and US-led NATO forces are involved in a massive security operation to guard against raids after the Taliban urged a boycott and warned it would attack anyone involved in the vote.
Karzai -- whose own re-election last year was mired in massive fraud -- called on people to vote to take their country "forward to a better future" after 30 years of war.
"We do hope there will be a high voter turnout, that people will come out and vote for the person, man or woman, of their choice without pressure."
More than 2,500 candidates are contesting 249 seats in the lower house of parliament, or Wolesi Jirga, a key step in a US-led process to bring democracy to the impoverished and conservative Muslim country.
Among them are 406 women contesting 68 seats reserved for them under legislation designed to better their rights.
The vote comes at a pivotal time for 144,000 US-led NATO troops trying to reverse the insurgency and allow American troops to start leaving next year.
Polls closed at 4:00 pm (1130 GMT), although those still queuing would be allowed to vote, an Independent Election Commission (IEC) official told AFP.
The commission said 92 percent of planned polling centres had opened, although more than 1,000 were already shuttered because of insecurity.
Turnout among the 10.5 million electorate -- a paltry 30 percent last year -- will be key. Experts believe that violence, expectations of fraud, vested interests and a voting process that favours the status quo will keep it low.
IEC chief Fazil Ahmad Manawi described turnout as "very good", but no statistics were immediately available.
The Election Complaints Commission said it had received complaints of delayed opening, intimidation, ineligible voters, misuse of registration cards, proxy voting, poor ink quality and shortages of ballot papers.
Afghans reported being able to rub the ink off their fingers with little effort, despite officials saying that it was the best quality indelible ink available, and along with other complaints.
"In west Kabul the ink rubs off. After I voted, the ink rubbed off," said Mohammad Zahir Najafi Zada, one of the candidates standing for parliament.
The United Nations and United States concede the vote will be flawed, but highlight the fact that it was taking place at all and said they expected it to be better than last year's presidential vote.
"We have to put it into context and hoping that it will not be a bad day," UN envoy Staffan de Mistura told Al Jazeera television.
Rocket attacks killed six people in eastern provinces Kunar and Nangarhar and Takhar in the north, local officials said.
Insurgents also fired a rocket near NATO headquarters in Kabul shortly before polls opened at 0230 GMT, but no casualties or damage were reported.
Toryalai Wesa, the governor of Kandahar province said he survived a roadside bomb attack while visiting polling centres in the volatile region.
But Afghan authorities described security as better than expected and said that several planned attacks had been thwarted.
While much campaigning has been personality driven, those who did come to vote early said lawlessness and corruption were their main concerns.
Around 115,000 Afghan soldiers and police were deployed to protect the poll, while NATO said its entire contingent was on standby.
But with politics rooted in tribalism and power concentrated in the hands of Karzai, the election results, which are not due until October 31, will little alter the nature of governance.