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Afghanistan presidential polls marred by low turnout, chaos

KABUL, Afghanistan: Afghanistan’s presidential polls closed on Saturday amid reports of historically low voter turnout, chaos among candidates and flawed voting procedures.

About 9.6 million Afghans are registered to vote, but only a fraction were expected to cast a ballot — fewer than the 2014 presidential election or the 2018 parliamentary elections.

Security was  tightened across the country, with tens of thousands of troops and police deployed to guard polling stations and prevent attacks.

Early on Saturday, an explosion occurred near a polling station in the southern city of Kandahar, wounding at least 15 people.

The polls opened at 7am local time (2:30 GMT) and are scheduled to close at 5pm (14:30 GMT).

The presidential election is being contested by 15 candidates, with incumbent President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah seen as the top contenders.

Incumbent President Ashraf Ghani is seen as the frontrunner in the 15-man race, with Abdullah Abdullah, the country’s chief executive, considered his main rival.

Independent Election Commission staff showed up late at a polling station in Kabul’s Herati Masjed, delaying the voting process by almost an hour.

“The IEC is hiring incapable, illiterate people, this is why it’s happening,” Shah Bolbol, who waited for three hours to vote said.

He was asked to go to the IEC offices as his name did not appear on the voter list.
However, others were able to vote without any problems.

“The services were good, the security was good. I was very happy to go and vote. No one was afraid,” Mohammad Wahid, a Kabul resident said.

The turnout appeared to be low compared with the 2014 presidential polls.

At least 17 people were wounded when a bomb exploded outside a polling station in the southern city of Kandahar, a hospital official said, hours after the polls opened.

Dozens of people were turned away or had to wait for hours to vote at Kandahar’s Sayeed Jamaluddin High School due to problems with two biometric devices, according to reports. Similar issues were reported in Kunar province.

Ghani, who cast his ballot in Kabul, lauded the election as a sign of strengthening democracy in Afghanistan.

“It is a moment of pride for me that a major part of the election expenses has been paid by the Afghan government,” he said.

Ghani also stressed the need for fairness and urged election observers to monitor the process.