By Shadi Khan Saif
KABUL, Afghanistan (AA) - The landmark Afghan presidential polls ended on Saturday with several incidents of violence reported from across the war-torn country.
Authorities extended the polling time beyond 3 p.m. (1130GMT) for two hours in the election amid reports of vote delays in some areas and closure of several polling stations due to security threats.
Addressing a new conference in Kabul, Hawa Alam Nuristani, head of the country's Independent Election Commission (IEC) expressed her satisfaction with the process.
However, another IEC official, commissioner Mawlana Mohammad Abdullah, said that a total of 464 polling centers out of the total 5,373 centers were closed in 17 provinces, including 33 centers which were closed due to a lack of election materials nationwide.
According to local watchdog Transparent Election Foundation of Afghanistan (TEFA), up to 62% of polling centers opened at official opening hours of 07.00 a.m. (0230GMT) with the remaining 38% facing delay.
TEFA reported that the commission started monitoring from the opening process of polling centers in 34 provinces of the country with 5,200 independent and neutral observers at 06.30 a.m. (0100GMT).
"The Independent Election Commission (IEC) opened 98% of the polling centers in 34 provinces of the country and security forces had presence in 99.5% of the centers”, the report said.
TEFA said the biggest challenge related to the election was with the voters' lists and biometric systems which caused similar problems in around 88% of polling stations in 34 provinces, preventing voting.
"Visiting a polling centre in Kabul, I commended those women and men of Afghanistan working to enable transparent and credible elections in the most trying circumstances. Voters deserve admiration for their determination and support for democracy," said Tadamichi Yamamoto, UN envoy to Afghanistan.
So far, three people were killed and over 40 wounded in elections-related violence on polling day, security officials told Anadolu Agency.
An array of war victims, those losing friends, relatives and limbs of their own body to the raging Afghan conflict were shown by the local media firmly queuing up to cast their votes in hope for peace.
Saturday’s polls are the fourth presidential elections in the country since the fall of the Taliban regime in late 2001.
Adamant to press ahead with the armed insurgency in the wake of failed peace talks with the U.S., the Taliban have fiercely warned potential voters to stay indoors and "not throw themselves in danger" by coming out to vote.
Nearly 9.7 million Afghans have registered to vote, based on a new voter registration process that was conducted in the run-up to the 2018 parliamentary election and the top-up registration conducted in June 2019. Of this, 6.3 million are men and 3.3 million are women.
Under the Constitution, a presidential candidate needs more than 50% of the votes to be declared the winner. If no candidate wins the simple majority, 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 and former Mujahideen leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.