Afghanistan presidential elections begin amid threats from Taliban

Afghan voters have to decide among 16 candidates, including the incumbent President Ashraf Ghani

Almost 9.6 million people have registered to vote in the election, according to the Independent Election Commission.

The polls come following a bloody two-month election campaign that was marred by repeated attacks across the war-torn country.

Almost 445 polling centres out of 5,371 centres will be closed on the election day but the Ministry of Interior has assured that a safe environment will be provided to the voters, according to Tolo News. Taliban has threatened voters to stay away from the election or face dire consequences.

The road to the polls has been anything but certain, as a series of talks between the United States and the Taliban in the Qatari capital, Doha, threatened to derail the entire process, reports Al Jazeera.

The constant questioning of the polls continued until US President Donald Trump sent out a series of angry tweets declaring the talks dead after a Taliban-claimed bombing that resulted in deaths of at least 14 Afghan civilians and a US soldier.

Those tweets came just 20 days before the Afghan election.

As candidates started to go from province to province and the airwaves filled up with campaign ads, the people's questions about the election went from "will there be an election" to "will you vote" and "for whom".

The Afghan voters have to decide among 16 candidates, including the incumbent President Ashraf Ghani.

"I have a message for the Taliban: You should not prevent the people from their right. If you are Afghans, allow the people of Afghanistan to vote so that a strong government is created and then you can attend to the peace negotiations with that government," Chief of Army Staff Gen. Bismillah Waziri said.

He added, "But it will not be possible if you want to hinder the process."

The voting will end at 3 p.m. (local time), head of the commission, Hawa Alam Nuristani, said.

The New York Times reported that preliminary results of the elections are not expected to be announced until October 17 and final results until November 7.

"We cannot announce the final results at the end of the election day," Nuristani said, adding that at the end of the day, only the total number of voters will be announced.

"We are committed to providing a good environment for monitoring (the process on the election day)," head of the Election Commission's secretariat, Habib-Ur-Rahman, said.

He said that 144,146 national and international observers have been deployed for the election day.

Afghanistan's last presidential election, in 2014, was so stained by corruption, squabbling and fraud complaints that then-Secretary of State John Kerry stepped in to mediate a strained political marriage between the two top candidates, Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah -- the leading candidates in this vote, as well.

Last October, parliamentary elections descended into chaos amid shouting matches and cries of ballot-stuffing and political payoffs.



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