KABUL -- Voting in Afghanistan’s parliamentary elections, which were marred by deadly militant attacks and delays caused by technical and organizational problems, ended on October 21.
Abdul Badi Sayat, the head of the Independent Elections Commission (IEC), told reporters that around 4 million people out of the 8.8 million registered voters had cast their ballots over the past two days at over 4,500 polling centers across the country.
In a televised address to the nation, President Ashraf Ghani said the high turnout showed that voters “have the power and will to defeat their enemies,” referring to threats by the Taliban and Islamic State (IS) extremist group to target the elections.
The elections were extended to a second day on October 21 after hundreds of polling stations were closed on the first day of voting due to technical and security issues.
But only 253 of the 401 polling stations that were scheduled to be open on October 21 were operational, with the remainder closed for security reasons, Abdul Bade Sayad, the head of the Independent Election Commission (IEC) said.
At some of the centers opened for voting, there were insufficient ballot papers and voter rolls were "either incomplete or nonexistent," Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) spokesman Ali Reza Rohani said, adding, "most of the problems we had yesterday still exist today."
The ECC said it had received around 5,000 complaints of electoral irregularities from voters and candidates, and the Interior Ministry said 44 people had been charged with "illegal interference in the election and fraud.”
Election authorities said the biggest turnout was in 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.
The Transparent Election Foundation of Afghanistan (TEFA), a civic action body that has been monitoring the ballot, gave a more downbeat assessment of the elections.
Naeem Ayubzada, director of TEFA said more than a million people voted in Kabul but turnout was very low in the provinces.
He said the decision to extend the vote opened the way for fraud, with half-filled ballot boxes left open all night in some polling centers.
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 said around 70,000 security personnel were providing security for the elections. Security was highly visible in Kabul, with vehicles being searched and some roads closed to traffic.
On the first day of voting, Afghans expressed frustration over polling stations not opening on time, absent election staff, missing election materials, and technical glitches with biometric voter verification devices.
On October 20, Akhtar Mohammad Ibrahimi, the deputy interior minister, said 36 people were killed in 193 militant-led attacks across the country -- 27 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.
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.
New Biometric System
Election authorities had 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.
TEFA 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.
Ghani, in a televised speech, congratulated his fellow citizens for voting and praised the security forces.
"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 on October 20 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