Voting ends in Afghanistan polls (Roundup)

Kabul, April 5: Voting in Afghanistan’s presidential and provincial council elections concluded Saturday and counting of ballots has begun, a senior election official of the country said.

Polling began at 7 a.m. and ended at 5 p.m., Xinhua cited Independent Election Commission (IEC) Secretariat Chief Zia-ul-Haq Amarkhil as telling national TV.

The Afghan election official said that voting was relatively peaceful despite some attacks and complaints.

Despite the attacks and rainy weather, election officials said that they were hopeful that the turnout was huge and the exact voter turnout would be determined after the counting process was completed.

They said that the IEC has taken note of allegations of fraud and these were being looked into.

The Taliban that have been fighting the government have vowed to disrupt the election process.

The militants launched several attacks in 12 of the country’s 34 provinces, killing at least one person and injuring scores of others. But the militants failed to interrupt polling, the officials said.

Earlier Saturday, IEC Chairman Ahmad Yousuf Nouristani said that polling time was extended by an hour to help facilitate people to cast their votes.

“The Independent Election Commission (IEC) has decided to extend the voting time for one hour until 5 p.m. because many people had not been able to cast their votes due to late arrival of election officers in some remote areas,” Nouristani said.

The move came as many voters complained in Kabul, western Herat province and several other centres in different places about shortage of ballot papers and other election material.

“I have visited three election centres in western Kabul. But still I failed to vote. I put myself in danger on a rainy day but I could not cast my vote. I am afraid of losing my right of franchise during this election,” Kabul resident Mohammad Naqib told Xinhua.

Candidate agents and voters had earlier demanded that the IEC extend the voting time and requested early shifting of ballot papers so that the people could cast their votes.

More than 12 million eligible voters, 35 percent of them women, were expected to cast their ballots.

The number of presidential candidates dropped to eight after the withdrawal of three contenders from the race, and those running for the council seats in 34 provinces across the country exceed 2,700.

The provincial runners, including 380 women, are vying for 458 seats in the provincial councils or assemblies, including 96 seats for women.

The leading presidential candidates are former foreign ministers Abdullah Abdullah and Zulmai Rassoul as well as former finance minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai.

Presidential election complaint period is from April 7 to April 27. The preliminary results will come out on April 24 and the final result will be announced in mid May.

Nouristani also said that a total of 959 polling stations, including 211 new ones, were kept shut during elections Saturday for security reasons.

“A total of 211 polling centres were closed down on election day due to armed engagements and enemy’s attacks in parts of the country,” the poll panel chief said.

Afghans began voting early Saturday to elect a new president for the next five years, in the first democratic transfer of power through polling in the country’s history.

According to Nouristani, up to 6,212 polling centres were opened for the people to vote in the country’s 34 provinces.

Ahead of the polls, the IEC had closed 748 polling centres due to security reasons and as part of efforts to prevent election fraud and irregularities.

According to a report from Islamabad, the Afghanistan government allowed refugees living in Chaman and other border areas to vote in the elections.

The IEC established a polling station mainly for the refugees in Vesh Mandi, the first Afghan town across the Chaman border, Dawn online reported.

The Pakistan-Afghanistan border remained shut Saturday but Afghan refugees who wanted to cast their votes were allowed to cross the border through the Friendship Gate near Chaman.

Refugees and tribesman living on both sides of the border were allowed to cast their votes.

The refugees were told to come on foot and not use their vehicles to cross the border and also provide valid documents to prove their identity, a commander of the Afghan border force said.

In the previous two presidential elections, polling stations were also established in Pakistani territory.

IANS