Polls close in Afghanistan's long-delayed parliamentary elections

Parliamentary polls, the third since the Taliban's fall in 2001, saw large numbers of voters cast their ballots.

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    Polls close in Afghanistan's long-delayed parliamentary elections
    Preliminary results are expected to be released by November 20 [Rahmat Gul/AP]

    Kabul, Afghanistan - Polls have closed in Afghanistan's long-awaited parliamentary elections, with large numbers of voters defying deadly attacks to cast their ballots.

    Most polling stations in the country opened on Saturday at 7am (02:30 GMT) and were scheduled to close at 4pm (12:30 GMT).

    But voting was extended to Sunday at 6pm (13:30 GMT) as the Independent Election Commission (IEC) said they gave voters more time to cast their ballot because of a lack of voter materials at some polling stations and problems with the electronic voter system.

    Zabih Ullah Sadat, deputy spokesperson for the commission, told Al Jazeera that 250 polling centres "opened at 9am on Sunday and remained open until all the voters had cast their ballots".

     

    Vote counting is under way and preliminary results are expected within 20 days. The electoral body has until December 20 to release the final results.

    "The extension of polling will not cause delays in the release of the final results," Sadat said.

    Close to nine million Afghans registered to vote in the elections, the third since the Taliban armed group was pushed out of power in 2001.

    More than 2,500 candidates, including 417 women, are vying for a seat in the country's 250-member parliament.

    Deadly violence

    The vote took place amid security threats, with both the Taliban and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) armed groups vowing to disrupt the vote.

    Several explosions targeted polling stations across the country. In the capital, Kabul, a suicide bomber struck a voting centre late on Saturday killing at least 18 people: 10 civilians, seven security officers and one polling agent.

    Twenty-five others were wounded in the attack.

    Najeeb Danish, interior ministry spokesperson, told Al Jazeera on Sunday that 27 people were killed and 100 others wounded nationwide on election day.

    "In Kabul, we arrested two people with links to terror activities and 10 across Afghanistan. We also recovered explosives and at least 10 mines since the start of polling," Danish said.

    "Sixty people accused of meddling in the election, including government employees, have been arrested," he added.

     

    The lead-up to the election was also marred by violence, with at least 10 candidates killed and two others abducted.

    At least one-quarter of the polling centres in the country did not open because of security concerns, according to the electoral commission.

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

    Voting also did not take place in Ghazni because of the fragile security situation in the province, significant parts of which are under Taliban control. There is also an ongoing dispute over how to divide Ghazni's electoral constituencies to have a more balanced ethnic representation.

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    Right direction

    Security was not the only major obstacle that threatened the delayed poll, which was first originally scheduled to be held in 2015.

    The late introduction of the biometric system caused major delays at many polling stations, according to election observers.

    Transparent Election Foundation of Afghanistan (TEFA) said 32 percent of the biometric systems were not working in 22 percent of the polling centres.

    The election watchdog, which had more than 7,000 observers across Afghanistan, said at least nine percent of the voting centres were not equipped with the biometric system.

    Despite the challenges, political analysts said the vote was a step in the right direction for the country.

    "Despite serious threats, a huge number of people queued for long hours in polling centres to vote," Zaman Gul Dehati told Al Jazeera. 

    "Afghan forces performed well. Insurgents did not launch as many attacks as they promised."

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera News