Senior Afghan officials have praised voters who cast ballots in weekend parliamentary elections that were plagued by violence and organizational problems, saying the turnout shows that Afghans are rejecting the ideology of Taliban militants.
"The Taliban wanted to build a stream of blood, but the Taliban was defeated and the Taliban’s thoughts and ideas were rejected," Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah told a cabinet meeting on October 22.
Around 4 million out of 8.8 million registered voters in a country of more than 30 million cast their ballots over the two-day voting at more than 4,500 polling centers across the country, according to election authorities, despite deadly militant attacks in which dozens of people were killed and delays caused by technical and organizational problems.
The Taliban had issued several warnings in the days leading up to the poll demanding the more than 2,500 candidates for the lower house of parliament withdraw from the race and for voters to stay home.
Preliminary results of the parliamentary elections, which were 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 has said.
Originally scheduled for 2015, the 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 Afghan people want a system based on the people's vote, and in fact, we have witnessed a historical moment,” said Abdullah, who also admitted there were shortcomings during the vote.
Voting was 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 centers that were scheduled to be open on October 21 were operational, with the remainder closed for security reasons, election authorities said.
At some of the centers that 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 more than 5,000 complaints of irregularities from voters and candidates, and the Interior Ministry said 44 people had been charged with "illegal interference in the election and fraud.”
However, President Ashraf Ghani said in a televised address to the nation after polls closed on October 21 that the election turnout showed that voters "have the power and will to defeat their enemies."
Ghani also challenged the Taliban to "show if your way or the way of democracy is preferred by the people."
In a tweet on October 21, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg commended "the millions of Afghan men & women who have exercised their democratic right to vote & the Afghan security forces who have provided security for the elections despite great challenges.”
The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said in a statement released on October 20 that it was “encouraged by the high numbers” of Afghans who braved security threats and waited long hours to cast their votes.
UNAMA said the elections, which it described as "the first completely run by Afghan authorities since 2001," were an "important milestone in Afghanistan’s transition to self-reliance."