Afghans brave bombs, chaos to vote in parliamentary elections
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A suicide bomber blew himself up at a polling station in Kabul, killing at least 13 people while poll-related violence killed or wounded more than 130 across the country as Afghanistan voted Saturday in parliamentary elections.
Voters, election workers and police were among the victims of a suicide bombing in the northern Khair Khana district of Kabul, according to Afghan security officials, in what appeared to have been the most serious attack on a day marred by a series of security incidents across the country.
More than 130 Afghans were killed or wounded in poll-related violence on Saturday, officials said, as the parliamentary elections turned chaotic with hundreds of polling centres failing to open and voters queueing for hours.
Voting was extended until Sunday at 360 polling stations after hiccups with voter registration lists and biometric verification devices causing lengthy delays.
Violence also disrupted voting in the northern city of Kunduz, where three people were killed and 39 wounded after more than 20 rockets rained down on the provincial capital, according to health officials.
An Independent Election Commission (IEC) employee was killed and seven others were missing after the Taliban attacked a polling centre several kilometres from Kunduz city, destroying ballot boxes, provincial IEC director Mohammad Rasoul Omar said.
Eight explosions were recorded in the eastern province of Nangarhar, with two people killed and five wounded, the provincial governor's spokesman said.
Despite the threat of violence, large numbers of voters showed up at polling centres in major cities where they waited hours for them to open. Turnout in rural districts was not yetclear.
Braving Taliban threats following a bloody campaign season, Afghan voters lined up at polling stations and waited patiently as election officials addressed problems with the new biometric verification system.
‘Afghans are not afraid’
Photos posted on social media showed scores of men and women clutching their identification documents lining up outside voting centres amid a heavy security presence.
A woman dressed in a burqa leaving a polling station in the northern Afghan city of Mazar-i-Sharif said she had been worried about "security incidents", but decided to vote anyway.
"We have to defy the violence. In previous years we were not happy with the elections, our votes were sold out," said 57-year-old Hafiza.
“What shocked and inspired me most today was the response to the IED [Improvised Explosive Device] blast right outside our polling center (no casualties). Nobody moved from the queue. They brushed it aside like it was just fireworks. Afghans are not afraid. They just need opportunities,“ tweeted Atta Nasib, a candidate from Kabul for the 249-seat national parliament.
What shocked and inspired me most today was the response to the IED blast right outside our polling center (no casualties). Nobody moved from the queue. They brushed it aside like it was just fireworks. Afghans are not afraid. They just need opportunities. #AfghanElections pic.twitter.com/VQDnZL7FndAtta Nasib (@NasibAtta) October 20, 2018
Problems with biometric devices
Most polling sites opened late after teachers employed to handle the voting process failed to show up on time, said the IEC, which promised to extend voting by four hours.
University student Mohammad Alem said he felt "frustrated" after spending more than three hours trying to vote in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif, only to discover his name was not on the registration list.
"There also were some problems with the biometric devices because they were already running out of charge," he said.
After waiting four hours at a polling centre, Tabish Forugh tweeted he had not seen "even remotely similar... chaos" at previous elections.
Even senior government officials were kept waiting to cast their vote.
"I have been waiting for two and a half hours and the IEC officials say they have not received the voter (registration) list yet," said Mohammad Mohaqiq, a deputy to Afghan Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah.
Abdullah -- Afghanistan's equivalent of prime minister -- also waited for around half an hour at a polling centre as election workers searched for his name on a list.
Taliban claims attacks
Almost nine million people registered to vote in the parliamentary election, which is more than three years late. Turnout figures were not yet available as voting was extended in a number of polling stations.
Hundreds of people were killed or wounded in the months leading up to the poll. The killing of a powerful police chief in the southern province of Kandahar on Thursday further eroded confidence in the ability of security forces to protect voters.
Voting in Kandahar has been delayed by a week following the attack.
The Taliban claimed it carried out 318 attacks on voting locations, checkpoints and military sites throughout Saturday.
Despite the risks, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani urged "every Aghan, young and old, women and men" to exercise their right to vote, after casting his ballot in Kabul.
The Taliban issued several warnings in the days leading up to the poll, calling on candidates to withdraw from the race and for voters to stay athome.
At least 10 candidates out of more than 2,500 contesting the lower-house election have been killed.
Most of those standing are political novices, and include doctors, mullahs and journalists. Those with the deepest pockets are expected to win.
The poll is seen as a crucial test for next year's presidential election and an important milestone ahead of a UN meeting in Geneva in November where Afghanistan is under pressure to show progress on "democratic processes".
Preliminary results will be released on November 10 but there are concerns they could be delayed following the postponement of the vote in the critical Kandahar province.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and REUTERS)