By Shadi Khan Saif
KABUL, Afghanistan (AA) - Afghanistan's president hailed the beginning of landmark polls in the country on Saturday, amid threats by the Taliban to an estimated 9.6 million voters.
Speaking to the media after casting his vote at a polling station in the capital Kabul, Mohammed Ashraf Ghani said the ballot was a sign of strengthening democracy in Afghanistan. "It is a moment of pride for me that a major part of the election expenses have been paid by the Afghan government," he said, as the country continues to rely heavily on international aid.
Ghani also stressed the need for fairness and urged election observers to monitor the process candidly.
Earlier this month, a court in Kabul sentenced several former top election officials, including the chief election commissioner, to five years in prison over allegations of abuse of power and mismanagement in parliamentary polls 2018.
It took the country’s electoral commission at least six months to compile the final results for the October 2018 parliamentary polls marred by irregularities and technical glitches.
Under the country's constitution, a presidential candidate needs more than 50% of the votes to be declared the winner. If no candidate wins the simple majority on Saturday, a second and final round between the top two candidates of the first round will be held on Nov. 23.
The top election body will announce the preliminary results on Oct. 19 while the final results of the election -- where a total of 15 candidates are running for the top seat -- will be announced on Nov. 7.
Among the front-running candidates are the incumbent president Mohammad Ashraf Ghani and his power-sharing chief executive Abdullah Abdullah as well as former Mujahideen leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.