Afghan election scores 58 percent turnout
Afghanistan embarked on its first democratic transfer of power since the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001
Election turnout for Afghanistan’s presidential election on Saturday was 58 percent, comprising a total of seven million out of 12 million eligible voters, election commission chief Ahmad Yousuf Nuristani said on Saturday.
The figure of seven million was based on preliminary estimates, Nuristani told reporters, according to Reuters.
Meanwhile, four voters were wounded in an explosion at a polling station in the southeastern province of Logar on Saturday, a few hours after the election began.
“The blast took place close to a polling station which is a school building and wounded four voters, one critically,” Abdul Hameed, governor of the province’s Mohammad Agha district, told Reuters.
It was the most serious attack so far on an election that Taliban insurgents had vowed to derail, branding it a U.S.-backed sham.
Isolated attacks were reported at polling stations as the country embarked on the first democratic transfer of power since the fall of a Taliban regime in 2001.
Suicide bomber arrested
Police in the northern province of Faryab said they had arrested a would-be suicide bomber trying to enter a polling station, while in Ghazni, in the southeast, a volley of rockets were fired but landed far from a voting centre.
“I call on the people of Afghanistan to prove to the enemies of Afghanistan that nothing can stop them,” Reuters quoted Yousaf Nuristani, chairman of the Independent Election Commission (IEC) as saying after he had cast his own vote as a polling station opened in Kabul.
About 12 million are eligible to vote, and there are eight candidates, with former foreign ministers Abdullah Abdullah and Zalmay Rassoul, and former finance minister Ashraf Ghani the favourites.
Hamid Karzai, the incumbent, is barred by the constitution from running for the presidency again. But, after 12 years in power, he is widely expected to retain influence through politicians loyal to him.
More than 350,000 Afghan troops were on duty, guarding against attacks on polling stations and voters. The capital, Kabul, has been sealed off from the rest of the country by rings of roadblocks and checkpoints.
The Taliban have warned civilians they would be targeted if they try to vote, and at least 10 percent of polling stations are expected to be shut due to security threats.
Most foreign observers left Afghanistan in the wake of a deadly attack on a hotel in Kabul last month.
A veteran Associated Press photographer was killed and a senior correspondent of the same news agency was wounded on Friday when a policeman opened fire on the two women in eastern Afghanistan as they reported on preparations for the poll.
Here is the list of the candidates supplied by the Associated Press:
ABDULLAH ABDULLAH: Having gained 31 percent of the vote as runner-up to Karzai in the disputed 2009 elections, Abdullah has an advantage in name recognition and political organization. He was a close aide to the late Ahmad Shah Masood, the Northern Alliance rebel commander famed for his resistance to Soviet occupation and the Taliban. Abdullah has a strong following among ethnic Tajiks in Afghanistan's north, but his perceived weak support among Pashtuns - Afghanistan's largest ethnic group at 42 percent - could keep him from gaining a majority of votes, even though he is half-Pashtun.
ZALMAI RASSOUL: A former foreign minister, Rassoul has been national security adviser to the government and is seen as close to Karzai. He could end up being a consensus candidate among many political factions. A Pashtun like Karzai, he has a medical degree and is fluent in five languages, including French, English and Italian. He lived in Italy for many years with Afghanistan's deposed King Zahir Shah, who died in Kabul in 2007.
ASHRAF GHANI AHMADZAI: Ghani is a former finance minister who ran in the 2009 presidential elections but received just 3 percent of the vote. A well-known academic with a reputation as a somewhat temperamental technocrat, Ghani chairs a commission in charge of transitioning responsibility for security from the U.S.-led coalition to Afghan forces. Ghani also worked at the World Bank.
ABDUL RASOUL SAYYAF: An influential former lawmaker and religious scholar, Sayyaf is one of the more controversial candidates among Afghanistan's foreign allies because of his past as a warlord during the 1990s civil war and allegations of past links to radical jihadists including Osama bin Laden. As a Pashtun and charismatic speaker, he may appeal to Afghanistan's large number of religious conservatives.
QUTBUDDIN HILAL: An engineer by training with experience in Afghanistan's Defense Ministry, Hilal once headed a military commission tasked with uniting jihadi organizations. He twice served as first vice president - in 1993 and 1996 - and also served as deputy prime minister. He has been endorsed by the leader of Hezb-i-Islami chief, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, considered a terrorist by the United States and a target of the U.S.-led coalition.
GUL AGHA SHERZAI: Earned the nickname of "the bulldozer" for serving as public works and transport minister. Previously a mujahedeen commander in Kandahar, he also has served as governor of Kandahar and later governor of Nangarhar. He was the only governor to meet Barak Obama during his 2008 presidential campaign.
HEDAYAT AMIN ARSALA: Born in Kabul to an influential Afghan family, Amin was the first Afghan to join the World Bank, in 1969. He worked there for 18 years before joining the fight against the Soviet occupation. Arsala later served as finance minister, briefly as foreign minister, and after the collapse of the Taliban was selected as commerce minister. He also headed the Independent Commission of Administrative Reforms, the National Statistics Commission and the Economic Cooperation Committee. For years, he served as a senior adviser to Karzai.
MOHAMMAD DAOUD SULTANZAI: A pilot by training, Sultanzai defected to Germany after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and then settled in the U.S. He returned to Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban and went on to serve as a member of Parliament. Sultanzai also is known as an Afghan political commentator and talk show host.
(Reuters and Associated Press)
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