KABUL: Millions of people cast their votes in Afghan presidential elections on Saturday although the turnout indicates a drastic drop from the nearly 7 million who voted in 2014, officials told Arab News on Sunday.
“We have counted ballots of 2,597 centers from total of 4,905,” Abdul Aziz Ibrahimi, a spokesman for the Independent Election Commission (IEC) told Arab News.
Millions of people came out to vote despite repeated warnings by the Taliban that they would target election centers, calling it “the sham process under US occupation.”
The threat forced many from taking part in polls which also saw a series of irregularities, depriving hundreds of thousands of their votes. Although incidents of violence were lower than during previous elections, dozens of civilians and security forces lost their lives in Taliban attacks on Saturday.
Over 9.6 million people had registered to vote, but predictions suggest turnout may not go beyond 2.2 million.
One prominent newspaper, the Daily Weesa, reported: “The nation practically boycotted the polls.”
Another newspaper, Etalaat Roz, termed the irregularities and people being prevented from voting as “unjustifiable” while Mandegar Daily said that the low turnout had increased the level of fraud and violations.
The Afghan Analyst Network, a foreign funded thinktank, concluded after thorough research that the turnout was poor, saying: “The number suggests a low level of turnout in a country where more than 9 million people are registered to vote.”
The front-runners are incumbent President Ashraf Ghani and Afghan Chief Executive Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, who have both shared power after the deeply contentious polls of 2014 under a US-brokered deal.
Some candidates have complained of fraud committed by supporters of Ghani and Abdullah.
The British Embassy in Kabul urged nominees to avoid claims of victory and accusations of fraud without solid proof.
“All candidates and their supporters should refrain from premature claims of victory or unsubstantiated allegations of fraud,” it said in a statement.
The election, the fourth set of presidential campaigns since the fall of the Taliban, cost nearly $150 million and was largely covered by Afghan tax payers in a poor country that relies on foreign troops for its security and economy.
Some lawmakers and politicians complained about the irregularities that occurred during the voting day, having twice been postponed over poor management and because of ongoing talks between Taliban and US diplomats in Doha.
“With such a high amount of people we could have convened a far better election. This is in no way satisfactory for the people,” Fatima Aziz, a lawmaker from Kunduz, told Arab News.