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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 22 November 2018

Afghan elections 2018: Voters go to the polls amid Taliban threats - live blog

The National's Ruchi Kumar, Hikmat Noori and our team of correspondents report from across Afghanistan

Afghan security officials check people and vehicles on a road side as security has been intensified ahead of parliamentary elections in Helmand, Afghanistan. EPA
Afghan security officials check people and vehicles on a road side as security has been intensified ahead of parliamentary elections in Helmand, Afghanistan. EPA

Some 8.8 million Afghans are expected to vote on Saturday in the country's parliamentary elections as tens of thousands of forces fan out across the country to protect 21,000 polling stations.

  • A series of blasts have rocked polling stations making some voters nervous about casting their ballot
  • Technical difficulties with biometric scanners and mixed-up voter registration papers have delayed the opening of polling stations, as a result, some voting will continue tomorrow
  • There are 2,565 candidates vying for 249 seats in the lower house of parliament, including 417 women candidates
  • Commission deputy spokesman Aziz Ibrahimi said results of Saturday's voting will not be released before mid-November and final results will not be out until later in December

Read more: Afghan elections 2018: what you need to know | Editorial: Optimism wanes ahead of Afghan vote

All times are UTC+4

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Read more: Wounded but undeterred, Afghan blast survivors return to polling stations

Shkula Zadran was at her local polling station in Kabul when a loud blast sent voters rushing for cover amidst panicked screams.

This was the latest in a string of attacks on Afghan civilians casting their votes on Saturday.

Despite threats by the Taliban and ISIS, an encouraging number of voters made it to the polling stations. Some made several attempts to reach their polling centres, amidst gunfire and explosions, at great personal risk.

“The situation got really bad and people panicked. Everyone was screaming and running, and I decided to go home then, without having voted,” Ms Zadran, 25, told The National.

But she refused to be deterred by the violence she experienced earlier that day.

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18:05 The Taliban's impact on Afghan's elections in numbers

Afghanistan's Minister of Interior Wais Barmark put the Taliban's impact on the country's elections in context, saying that at least 28 people were killed in dozens of incidents across the nation.

"A total of 192 security incidents reported across Afghanistan, including grenade and IED explosions, resulting in 100 civilian casualties--17 killed and 83 wounded," he says.

"Apart from that there 10 policemen were killed and one soldier from the Afghan National Army; 17 security forces were wounded.

"In all, there have been over 1,700 threats. Security forces managed to prevent 1725 incidences against security across the country.

"However, more than 1000 polling stations remained closed due to security."

Some polling stations which were unable to open until after 1pm Afghanistan time will open again on Sunday.

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17:40 Suicide bomber kills at least 20

A suicide bomber killed more than 20 people in an attack on a polling station in northern Kabul.

A suicide bomber who arrived on foot and was intercepted at the door of a polling centre in PD 17.

He detonated his vest, injuring more than 20 people and killing 15. At least five of the casualties were security forces and the rest were civilians.

"The incident happened on Kotal road, in North Kabul," Zekria Hejran, a Kabul resident, told The National. "We saw them moving the injured to Khairkhaw Hospital. We followed them to donate the blood, but they wouldn't allow us inside. But we saw up to 10 ambulances carrying dead and injured."

The attack appears to be the most serious of the day, but there has been a series of smaller-scale incidents.

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Read more: Afghanistan Sikh, Hindu community brave danger to vote

Despite being dealt a major blow this year, Afghanistan's Hindu and Sikh communities came out in full strength on Saturday to vote in the country's parliamentary elections.

For the first time since the fall of the Taliban in 2001 these two minorities are voting to elect a member of the lower house, a seat they will hold jointly.

“This is our chance to put our representative in parliament,” Ram Prakash, a Hindu businessman from Kabul told The National.

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15:00 Powercuts, fighting and delayed starts across Afghanistan

The electricity lines coming into the city of Kunduz from Tajikistan have be cut by the Taliban leaving the city without power. This is expected to affect the biometric devices used for polling that need to be charged.

“The Afghan forces are fighting with Taliban in the area where the power lines have been damaged,” Haji Mohammad Momand, the chief of Kunduz Electricity body, told The National.

“We are waiting for the situation to improve so we can send our officials and engineers to solve the power lines," he said.

Meanwhile, similar electricity issues have also been experienced in Baghlan which has affected the polling in some centres. Eyewitnesses said that even the backup power banks they carried are out of charge.

But in Baghlan province, voters have been put off by fierce clashes between the Taliban and security forces.

“I have been trying to go cast my vote all morning, but there has been fighting ongoing between the security forces and Taliban in our district," Mohammad Qurban, a civilian from Tala wa Barfak told The National.

Despite the ongoing clashes, Qurban attempted to go to the only open voting centre in the district. “I was caught in the crossfire. The insurgents were firing missiles and I had to come back home,” he narrated.

Yet Qurban remains hopeful he will get the opportunity to vote before the day is over. He is willing to risk his life to ensure that he gets to participate in the democratic process. “I am told the voting centre will be open till 4pm. If the security improves, I will try to go out to vote again,” he said.

A woman votes in parliamentary elections in Herat, Afghanistan. Shafi Amini
A woman votes in parliamentary elections in Herat, Afghanistan. Shafi Amini

In Helmand province, voting didn't start until later in the day.

“Due to certain logistical issues our employees couldn’t go the polling stations,” Hashim Durrani, IEC head in Helmand told The National.

Those issues were eventually solved and election officers managed to reach the centres, but they were later faced with other technical problems, forcing them to start elections later than scheduled.

"I have advised the team to not close the polling station until there are voters. We don’t have a time limit, and our centres will be open until there are people outside and want to vote,” he said.

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14:00 Security services vote for change

“I voted today and came on duty. I voted for someone I am hoping will be able to change our future" Burhan, an Afghan policeman on election duty in Baghlan province told The National.

Burhan has been in the security forces for eight years and was very concerned about the changing security situation in the North.

“The MPs we had previously were entitled and wouldn’t even stop their vehicles for security checks," he said, as he managed the crowd at the polling centers immediately after a mine explosion. "It’s an important day for me,” he said.

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12:30 Voting to continue until Sunday

The Independent Election Commission admitted to logistical issues and has announced the extension of the polling hours in centres where polling was delayed.

"Centers where voting began before 1pm, will continue to remain open till 8pm instead of the earlier scheduled time of 4pm," Mirza Mohammad Haqparast, the Deputy Spokesperson of IEC informed The National.

"On the other hand, those centers who are unable to start even at 1pm, will reopen for polling even tomorrow," he added.

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Voters line up in Herat and Ghor province where the Taliban are fighting with the Afghan security forces on Baghlan-Mazar highway since early morning. Shafi Amini / The National
Voters line up in Herat and Ghor province where the Taliban are fighting with the Afghan security forces on Baghlan-Mazar highway since early morning. Shafi Amini / The National

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11:56 Emergency services overwhelmed

The Emergency War and Trauma Hospital in Kabul told The National that they have received 30 casualties from security incidences all over the city.

Of these, one was a minor who declared dead on arrival.

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11:12 Violence continues, insurgency stalls voting

Incidences of insurgency have stalled voting in Kabul and dissuaded people from participating in the ballot.

There has been another report of an explosion in a voting centre, raising the total number of security incidences in the Afghan capital to four. Several sources claim a suicide bomber detonated himself inside the Deh Kaipak School.

Voters were seen fleeing the building, an AFP correspondent said, with further witnesses reporting blasts at other polling centres.

"I had been waiting to vote alongside many other women in Kabul’s Arzan Qemat polling stations when the explosion happened," said Shkula Zadran, a 25-year-old Afghan woman who had been waiting since 9.30am.

“The situation got really bad and people panicked. Everyone was screaming and running, and I decided to go home then, without having voted."

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10:14 Technical problems delay voting

In some districts in Herat province, the wrong list of voters has been sent to some centres.

"There are no voters by those identities in these districts. There are vast technical problems from the beginning of the day,” an eyewitness said.

In Helmand, voting has been delayed because officials did not have have the technical capabilities to manage the biometric systems.

“At first they didn’t have the material/devices needed to conduct the polling, but when the devices arrived, the officials didn’t seem to know how to operate them,” said Abdul Malik, a local reporter who was waiting to cast his vote for hours.

An election official scans a voter's eye with a biometric device at a polling station during a parliamentary election in Kabul, Afghanistan. Reuters 
An election official scans a voter's eye with a biometric device at a polling station during a parliamentary election in Kabul, Afghanistan. Reuters 

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10:07 Tabiban attack communications

The Taliban has shut down all telecom companies and other communications in Badghis province. Currently, only the governor's office has access to a phone.

In Uruzgan, too, the Taliban have been firing missiles since this morning voting process.

In Kabul, another explosion was reported in Pul-e-Sokhta, a crowded neighbourhood in west Kabul. More details are awaited.

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09:45 Reported explosions

Unconfirmed reports are emerging of an explosion in Ahmand Shah Baba school in Kabul that was serving as a centre for the polls. Casualties are feared.

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Read more:

Taliban kills 26 Afghan forces as election bloodshed continues

Youth wave challenges Afghan elections

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09:40 A hopeful Afghan motivates voters

In Nangarhar province, Abdul Basir Sabawoon, a young voter, has taken it upon himself to motivate locals to vote.

Abdul Basir Sabawoon has taken it upon himself to encourage other voters to stay and vote despite security threats. The National 
Abdul Basir Sabawoon has taken it upon himself to encourage other voters to stay and vote despite security threats. The National 

"Lala, stay and vote for the younger, educated boys and girls. They will bring prosperity," he has been seen telling the folks in public. He is talking to those standing in the lines encouraging them and trying to boost morale, despite reports of violence.

"I think people can really change the fate of the nation. Especially the youth, they can make difference and are our hope," Sabawoon, a university professor, told The National.

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09:30 Delayed voting fuels anxiety

In Kabul, people have been waiting for hours at some polling centres - but voting has yet to start.

The delay is causing anxiety as the crowds grow larger, and become a potential security risk.

"I’ve come here to vote. As they’d reported in the media, it should’ve started at 7am. Now it’s 9:30am and we’ve been waiting here for two-and-a-half hours. Some say it’s not prepared yet, some say there are technical issues. For whatever reason, the process has not started yet and people are waiting," said 21-year-old Enayatullah, a Kabul University student from Badakhshan province.

Biometric systems were launched ahead of the elections to eliminate voting fraud and duplicate votes, however, eyewitnesses say there could be a problem with implementing them.

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09:10 Another explosion in Nangarhar

A second explosion in Nangarhar in the same district has resulted in some injuries. People are now starting to leave without voting, eyewitness says.

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08:50 Explosion in Nangarhar

An explosion has been reported in the Kama district of Nangarhar province.

The eastern province has been plagued with intense violence over the past year, owing to the resurgent Taliban coupled with the fast-growing ISIS presence.

According to UNAMA's latest report, Nangarhar recorded the highest civilian casualties this year, with 609 counted (232 deaths and 377 injured).

Meanwhile, in Kunduz, Ahmad Yousuf Ayobi, chief of Kunduz Provincial Council, told The National that clashes are underway in three districts - Imam Saheb, Chahardara and Dasht-e-Archi. Another source confirmed that there had been an explosion in a school in Imam Saheb District. No casualties reported yet.

Afghan women line up to cast their votes during a parliamentary election at a polling station in Kabul. Reuters 
Afghan women line up to cast their votes during a parliamentary election at a polling station in Kabul. Reuters 

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08:40 Missile attacks in Kunduz and Farah

Reports of missile attacks in the northern city of Kunduz.

This was one of the first major city to have briefly fallen to Taliban in 2015. The siege resulted in US airstrikes which targeted the MSF hospital, killing 42 people and injuring several others. Many of the casualties were patients and doctors at the facility.

There are also reports of missiles in Farah province, in the north.

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08:15 Violence begins with Taliban clashes

Clashes between the Taliban and security forces on Baghlan-Mazar highway ongoing since early morning.

This trade route is key because it connects Kabul to the North and is currently closed.

In the South too, the Taliban fired a number of missiles on Helmand's provincial capital of Lashkar Gah city. No reports of casualties.

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07:30 Years late, voting begins

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani marked his ballot as polls open.

The Taliban have warned of violence and told students and teachers to refuse to allow their schools to be used in voting. Education Minister Mohammad Mirwais Balkhy says 5,500 schools throughout the country are being used for elections.

Despite the threats polling stations were crowded early on Saturday morning.

"We don't care about their threats. The Taliban are threatening us all the time," said one voter.

Voters will be able to cast ballots at more than 19,000 polling stations in 33 provinces.

Of those, the elections commission says as many as 11,667 polling stations are reserved for men and 7,429 for women, while 46 will serve Afghan nomads, known as Kochis, and 22 will serve minority Sikhs and Hindus. The Kochis have 10 parliament seats reserved for them while the Sikhs and Hindus jointly have one seat.

However, security fears have forced the election commission to close about 2,000 polling stations.

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Read more:

Afghanistan delays vote in Kandahar after killing of commander

Afghans set to vote despite Taliban threats, corruption

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Additional reporting: Qudratullah Razwan in Kandahar, Shafi Amini in Herat, Ilyas Kamavi in Nangarhar, Ajmal Omari in Baghlan. Translation: Ali Asgar Ataie in Kabul