Afghanistan’s long-delayed parliamentary elections dissolve into chaos as blasts rock polling centers across Kabul, forcing authorities to extend voting in some constituencies to Sunday.
According to acting Health Ministry spokesman Mohibullah Zeer, at least three people were killed and more than 30 wounded in Saturday attacks which came after the Taliban warned voters to boycott the ballot “to protect their lives.”
The blasts came even as around 70,000 security forces have been deployed to protect polling centers across the war-torn country.
Polling began in most regions at 7 a.m. local time (0230 GMT) but most polling sites opened late after teachers employed to handle the voting process reportedly failed to show up on time.
Voters waited hours for polling stations to open across the country and many remained closed more than six hours after the election officially began.
Glitches with biometric voter verification devices which are being used for the first time compounded the problems as missing or incomplete voter registration lists hit the voting process.
The Independent Election Commission (IEC) said polling centers that do not open before 1:00 pm (0830 GMT) would reopen on Sunday.
Agence France-Presse quoted Tabish Forugh having tweeted that he had not seen “even remotely similar chaos” at previous elections.
Nearly nine million people are eligible to vote in 5,100 polling centers. According to IEC, about 2,450 candidates are competing for places in the 250-seat parliament.
Voting is held in 32 Afghan provinces, but not in Ghazni and Kandahar due to security issues.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani cast his ballot at a polling station in Kabul in the early hours of the voting.
“Today, I speak to you as a citizen of this country and my request is that every Afghan woman and man should exercise their right to vote,” he said.
Thousands of police officers and soldiers have been deployed but already nine candidates have been assassinated and hundreds of people killed and wounded in election-related attacks.
Security fears have already forced the IEC to close more than 2,000 polling stations and cancelled the vote in 11 of the country’s nearly 400 districts.
Taliban militants have issued a series of statements, warning voters against taking part in what they consider a foreign-imposed process.
The group’s most high-profile attack came on Thursday when it assassinated the powerful police chief of Kandahar at a meeting with top US commander in Afghanistan General Scott Miller who survived it.
The attack left three people dead, including Kandahar police chief General Abdul Razeq, and two Americans injured, leading to the cancellation of elections in the province due to security problems.