Afghanistan’s long-delayed parliamentary elections have entered into a second day after hundreds of polling stations were closed on the first day of voting due to technical and security issues.
Polling was scheduled to continue in 401 voting centers on October 21, according to election authorities.
They said about 3 million Afghans out of nearly 9 million registered voters had cast their ballots at some 4,500 polling stations on October 20. The biggest turnout was in the capital, Kabul, and the lowest in the southern province of Oruzgan.
The vote was marred by scores of militant attacks in which dozens of people were killed or injured, as well as chaotic scenes at polling stations hit by technical and organizational problems.
However, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said it was “encouraged by the high numbers” of Afghans who braved security threats and waited long hours to cast their votes.
“Those eligible voters who were not able to cast their vote, due to technical issues, deserve the right to vote,” it added.
Preliminary results of the elections, which are seen as a key test of the government’s ability to provide security across the country, were expected to be released on November 10 at the earliest. Final results will likely be out sometime in December, an election commission spokesman said.
Originally scheduled for 2015, the parliamentary vote was delayed for three years amid disputes over electoral reforms and because of the instability following NATO’s handover of security responsibilities to Afghan forces at the end of 2014.
The Interior Ministry announced that an additional 20,000 security personnel had been deployed to protect voters and polling stations, bringing the total to around 70,000. Security was highly visible in Kabul, with vehicles being searched and some roads closed to traffic.
Afghans expressed frustration over polling stations not opening on time, absent election staff, missing election materials, and technical glitches with biometric voter verification devices.
About 2,500 of the polling stations originally planned to operate remained closed because of security concerns or other issues. Others opened several hours late.
On October 20, Akhtar Mohammad Ibrahimi, the deputy interior minister, said 36 people were killed in 193 militant-led attacks across the country -- 27 civilians of them civilians, eight were police officers, and one was an Afghan soldier.
Assailants used grenades, small arms, mortars, and rocket launchers in various attacks, he said, adding that security forces killed at least 31 insurgents.
At one polling station in Kabul, a suicide bomber killed at least 10 people, including police officers and voters, officials said.
Earlier, multiple blasts struck other stations in the capital, leaving at least three dead and over 30 wounded, health officials said. In the central province of Ghor, 11 police officers were killed while three people were killed in the northern province of Kunduz.
More violence was reported on the second day of elections, with a roadside bomb blast killing 11 civilians, including six children, in the eastern province of Nangarhar, according to a spokesman for the provincial governor.
No one immediately claimed the attack in Achin district. Taliban and Islamic State (IS) extremists are both active in the province.
Abdul Badi Sayad, the head of the Independent Election Commission, pleaded for patience with the new biometric system and said that dozens of teachers who had been trained in the system did not show up for work at the polling stations.
The Transparent Election Foundation of Afghanistan, a civil action group, said its team of observers found almost a third of polling centers in Kabul were not in a position to use biometric equipment.
The new technology, aimed at preventing election fraud, was rushed in at the last minute.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani voted early in the day. Later, in a televised speech, he congratulated his fellow citizens for voting and praised the security forces.
"I thank you from the bottom of my heart," he said.
"Today we proved together that we uphold democracy. With casting our ballots without fear we honor the sacrifices of the fallen," he wrote in a tweet.
Photos posted on social media showed scores of men and women holding their identification documents lining up outside polling stations across the country amid a heavy security presence.
RFE/RL correspondents in Kabul and other locations reported problems at some polling stations. Outside one station in the northern province of Parwan, there was a long line of eager voters who waited patiently despite technical problems.
In a fresh warning issued on October 20, the Taliban urged voters to boycott the "sham and theatrical process to protect their lives."
Candidates, campaign rallies, and senior security officials have been targeted in deadly attacks by Taliban and IS militants – including suicide attacks, motorcycle bombings, and drive-by shootings.
During the three-week campaign period, two candidates and 34 civilians were killed in militant attacks.
Eight other candidates were killed by militants during the run-up to campaigning, and the fate of two abducted candidates remains unknown.
Altogether, there are more than 2,500 candidates -- mostly running as independents -- contesting 249 seats in Afghanistan’s lower house of parliament, known as the Wolesi Jirga. Of those candidates, 417 are women.
But no major opposition party is poised to win enough seats to contest the national unity government of President Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah.
With reporting by AP, Reuters, AFP, and Tolo News