Afghan voters head to the polls amid security threats

Close to nine million Afghans have registered to take part in the vote, but concerns abound over the threat of attacks.

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    Kabul, Afghanistan - Polls opened in Afghanistan's long-delayed parliamentary election on Saturday amid security threats from the Taliban armed group who vowed to disrupt the "bogus" vote.

    Voting centres opened at 7am (02:30GMT) and will close at 4pm (12:30GMT).

    Close to nine million Afghans have registered to take part in the vote, which was first scheduled for 2015.

    There are 21,000 voting stations in 5,100 polling centres in the country's 33 participating provinces.

    The vote - the third since the fall of the Taliban in 2001 - was postponed because of security fears and reforms to the voter registration process.

    The election commission acquired more than 20,000 biometric devices to prevent voter fraud [Hamza Mohamed/Al Jazeera]

    Security has been a major issue in the run up to voting day. Since late September, when campaigning officially started, at least 10 candidates have killed and two others abducted.

    Afghanistan's interior ministry told Al Jazeera it has deployed more than 70,000 security forces across the country to ensure security of the voters.

    There was a heavy presence of security forces on the streets of the capital, Kabul, with vehicles being searched and some roads closed.

    In the city's District 9, voters started queuing early on Saturday. Most voters said they cast their ballot without any issues.

    Afghan National Security Forces personnel have been deployed to protect the 21,000 polling stations [Hamza Mohamed/Al Jazeera]

    "I waited in the queue for 30 minutes to vote. The process was easy and I am happy. Overall I believe in the ongoing process, but we will see what will happen," 60-year-old Ali Shah told Al Jazeera after casting his vote.

    The electoral commission said one-quarter of the polling centres in the country will not be open because of security concerns.

    Several hours after voting was supposed to start some polling stations were yet to allow voters to cast their ballot. 

    "We have been waiting for an hour and the process has not been started yet. They said the materials have not arrived yet," Latifa Amarkhil, a doctor, said while she waited to vote at Al Fatah High School in Kabul.

    Khalid Amel, an agent for one of the candidates, said there were also issues with some of the electronic voting materials.

    The Independent Election Commission says 8.9 million Afghans are registered to vote in election [Hamza Mohamed/Al Jazeera]

    "The biometric system has a problem. It does not accept some fingerprints. The process is not going according to schedule. The voting centre is small and large number of people have turnout," Amel told Al Jazeera at Al Fatah High school.

    "Our responsibility is to hold elections and it is the responsibility of government to maintain security of election," Zabih Ullah Sadat, deputy spokesman for the electoral commission, told Al Jazeera on Saturday.

    Despite the vote not taking place across the entire country, Sadat said the poll results will be valid and the vote free and fair.

    "We have taken enough measures to hold transparent elections. The elections will be transparent and fair," he said.

     

    The election has been delayed by a week in the southern province of Kandahar following the assassination on Thursday of the province's powerful police chief, General Abdul Raziq, in an attack claimed by the Taliban.

    Voting will also not take place in Ghazni because of the precarious security situation - the Taliban controls significant parts of the province. There is also an ongoing dispute over how to divide Ghazni's electoral constituencies to have a more balanced ethnic representation.

    The Taliban has vowed to disrupt what it calls "bogus elections".

    "People who are trying to help in holding this process successfully by providing security should be targeted and no stone should be left unturned for the prevention and failure [of the elections]," Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in a statement last week.

    Controversial vote

    According to the Independent Election Commission (IEC), there are 2,565 candidates running for a seat in the 250-seat parliament, 417 of whom are women.

    A total of 205 - nearly eight percent - of the candidates have registered as members of political parties. The rest are independent candidates.

    Ballot counting will begin upon the conclusion of the vote in the presence of election observers.

    The electoral commission has not set a timeline for announcing official results, but preliminary results are expected within a month.

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    SOURCE: Al Jazeera News