Voters in Afghanistan are heading to the polls in parliamentary elections overshadowed by chaotic organisation and allegations of corruption, and violence that has forced a postponement of the vote in the southern province of Kandahar.
Several security incidents marred polling day, with three police officers killed and at least eight people wounded in explosions in Kabul. There were clashes between Taliban fighters and members the security forces in at least three provinces.
Wider election concerns centred on technical and organisational problems with biometric voter registration equipment, polling stations not opening on time, missing election materials and delays forcing lengthy waits.
“The biggest problem is with the biometric machines – there are some sites where they’re not working and a lot of voters have been discouraged and gone home,” said Nasibullah Sayedi, a voter in the western city of Herat.
There were similar reports from other centres including the capital, Kabul, while in Uruzgan province, in central Afghanistan, angry voters tried to break the biometric devices because of the delays. At least 15 men were arrested over the incident.
The untried biometric technology, aimed at preventing election fraud, was rushed in at the last minute, despite objections from foreign partners who said there was not enough time to set up the system.
The organisational headaches come on top of fears of violence, particularly following the killing of the police chief of Kandahar on Thursday, which forced authorities to delay the election in the province by a week.
Taliban militants have issued statements telling people not to take part in what they consider a foreign-imposed process and warning that election centres may be attacked.
Thousands of police and soldiers have been deployed across the country but already nine candidates have been assassinated and hundreds of people killed and wounded in election-related attacks.
Widespread allegations of voter fraud present a challenge to the legitimacy of the process. Afghan politics is still tainted by the aftermath of a disputed presidential vote in 2014 that forced the two main rival groupings to form an unstable partnership. Both sides were accused of massive electoral cheating.
Despite the problems reported at numerous sites across the country, there were still people who hoped their ballot could help improve their lives.
“I want candidates to serve the country and hear the voices of the disabled and the poor,” said Abdullah, a voter and wheelchair user in Herat. “People ask what difference one person’s vote will make, but I say if a million disabled people come out to vote, you don’t think that will make a difference?”
Some 8.8 million voters have been registered but an unknown number – by some estimates as many as 50% or more – are believed to be fraudulently or incorrectly registered.
About 2,450 candidates are competing for places in the lower house, which has 250 seats, including one reserved for a candidate from the Sikh minority. Under the constitution, parliament reviews and ratifies laws but has little real power.
Polls opened at 7am local time and voting was due to continue until 4pm. Due to the difficulty of collecting and collating results across Afghanistan, the overall results will not be known for at least two weeks.