“Amid the challenges and threats, the presidential elections of Afghanistan successfully ended,” Hawa Alam Nuristani, head of the country’s independent election commission, told reporters in Kabul.
Afghanistan’s presidential polls closed Saturday amid Taliban violence nationwide and complaints of wrongdoings in some polling centers. Millions of Afghans braved the militant threats and cast their vote for a new leader in the fourth democratic election since the Taliban regime was ousted by the U.S. invasion in 2001.
“Amid the challenges and threats, the presidential elections of Afghanistan successfully ended,” Hawa Alam Nuristani, head of the country’s independent election commission, told reporters in Kabul. The commission plans to make an announcement on the turnout, she said.
Polling stations operated under heavy security for the election, which was postponed twice. It comes three weeks after U.S. President Donald Trump canceled peace talks with the Taliban just as the two sides were nearing a deal that could have brought an end to the 18-year war.
In some polling stations, people weren’t able to cast their vote because their names were not on the election lists, and some biometric machines meant to crack down on fraud failed to work.
The election’s winner will inherit a country devastated by decades of war, and will have to manage a resurgent Taliban as well as the U.S.’s desire to end the conflict that’s killed more than 2,400 of its soldiers and cost about $900 billion.
“With your participation in the elections, our new democracy has strengthened,” incumbent President Ashraf Ghani said via television channels in an address to the nation after polls closed. He praised Afghan forces for their bravery and the election commission for holding “successful” elections, while again calling on the Taliban to renounce violence.
More than 9.6 million eligible voters registered with the commission. It’s unclear how many participated given the fear of Taliban attacks and grave concerns over fraud and corruption that marred all three previous elections. Four hours after polling began, election officials were reporting a low turnout.
Afghan forces maintained a heavy presence around Kabul, where voter Nader Shah opted to cast his ballot in the northern part of the city. “I came to vote in order to condemn the Taliban and elect a new leader who can end our bloodshed and create jobs,” said Shah, 23. “We want no war from the Taliban — we have had enough,” he said, urging the militants to vote like other citizens in Afghanistan.
The Taliban — which controls or contests half the country — have repeatedly threatened to target what they describe as a “sham” election. The government has deployed one-third of the 272,000-strong Afghan force to secure more than 4,500 polling centers nationwide.
Some polling stations, including in Kunduz, Kandahar, Nangarhar and Ghazni provinces, were hit by explosives and rocket strikes. The attacks killed at least nine people and wounded hundreds more, according to officials. The Taliban claimed responsibility for most of them, according to posts on Twitter and its statements.
Voting started at 7 a.m. and ended at 5 p.m. The election commission is scheduled to announce provisional results on Oct. 19 and final ones on Nov. 7. A run-off will be held on Nov. 23 if no candidate receives more than 50% of the vote.
The poll is largely seen as a race between Ghani and his main rival and current government chief Abdullah Abdullah, but there are 12 other candidates in the fray.
Ghani voted at a school near his presidential palace, while Abdullah cast his ballot at a different polling center in Kabul.
“We acknowledged that the republic system of Afghanistan is vital, and only the elections save it,” Ghani said in a televised speech, with his wife and first vice president candidate Amrullah Saleh standing alongside him.