Security was tight in southern Kandahar on Saturday as voters waited hours in line to cast their ballots in parliamentary elections that were delayed in the province by one week after an attack by an elite guard killed two top government officials, including a powerful provincial police chief.
Major roads throughout southern Kandahar were closed nearly 24 hours before polls opened to stop vehicle-born explosive devices from entering the province, said provincial governor's spokesman Aziz Ahmed Azizi.
Kandahar Gov. Zalmay Wesa was seriously hurt in the Oct. 18 attack that killed provincial police chief Gen. Abdul Raziq and also targeted the commander of U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan, Gen. Scott Miller, who escaped unhurt. U.S. Gen. Jeffery Smiley was wounded. Raziq's strongman tactics had been credited with repulsing successive Taliban attempts to gain a foothold in Kandahar, once their spiritual heartland.
The first parliamentary elections since 2010 are being held against a backdrop of near-daily attacks by the Taliban, who have seized nearly half the country and have repeatedly refused offers to negotiate with the Afghanistan government. The U.S.-backed government is rife with corruption and many Afghans have said they do not expect the elections to be fair. Yet millions of Afghans have defied Taliban threats and waited, often for hours, to cast their votes.
Independent Election Commission deputy spokesman Aziz Ibrahimi said voting was to start at 7 a.m. Saturday at 1,113 polling stations throughout Kandahar, but early reports said scores of polling stations were late opening because staff did not show up or election materials were not readily available. Ibrahimi said 111 candidates were vying for 11 seats in Parliament from southern Kandahar in Afghanistan's 249-seat chamber.
Hajji Hamdullah Gulalai, head of one of the largest tribes in south Kandahar, complained bitterly about the chaos at polling stations, where workers were late arriving and had difficulty finding the names of voters waiting to cast their ballots.
"People are frustrated and waiting for hours in long lines," said Gulalai who voted at a school in Kandahar city. "They cannot find people's names on the voters' list. "
Political analyst Mokadar Ahmad Waheeda said election workers were struggling with a new biometric identification system and at least three observers for candidates were arrested on allegations of trying to influence the vote.
Preliminary results of nationwide voting are not expected before mid-November.
Stakes are high for Afghans hoping to reform Parliament, challenge the dominance of warlords and the politically corrupt and replace them with a younger, more educated generation of politicians. They are also high for the U.S., which is still seeking an exit strategy after 17 years of war that has cost more than $900 billion and claimed more than 2,400 U.S. service personnel
Underscoring Afghanistan's precarious security situation, a suicide attack outside a military compound in Afghanistan's central Wardak province south of the Afghan capital Kabul killed six people, provincial council member Sharifullah Hottak told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.
Hottak said the car bomb detonated in the provincial capital of Maidan Shahr as two busloads of mechanics arrived at the gate to begin their day's work. Another eight people were wounded, he said, although the casualty numbers could rise.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said the insurgent group was responsible.
Last weekend's countrywide voting in Afghanistan's first parliamentary elections in eight years suffered from violence and chaos, with multiple attacks killing more than 50 people in two days of voting. Technical glitches with a new biometric identification system introduced to stem fraud allegations instead created massive confusion and caused delays lasting hours, frustrating voters and challenging the credibility of the polls. The unprecedented delays forced voting to be extended a second day last weekend to give voters in more than 400 polling centers an opportunity to cast their ballots.
An independent monitoring group said voting was also marred by ballot stuffing and intimidation by armed men affiliated with candidates in 19 of the country's 32 provinces that were voting last weekend. Security is so bad in central Ghazni province that voting had to be delayed until next year.