KABUL -- Afghan officials are counting ballots in the country’s long-delayed parliamentary elections that were marred by deadly attacks and chaotic scenes at polling stations hit by technical and organizational problems.
Because of disruptions during the October 20 polling process, voting was extended one day in some constituencies after citizens were unable to cast ballots in the election that was three years overdue.
Preliminary results were expected to be released on November 10 at the earliest. Final results will likely be out sometime in December, an election commission spokesman said.
Originally scheduled for 2015, the parliamentary vote was delayed for three years amid disputes over electoral reforms and because of the instability following NATO’s handover of security responsibilities to Afghan forces at the end of 2014.
The Interior Ministry announced that an additional 20,000 security personnel had been deployed to protect voters and polling stations, bringing the total to around 70,000. Security was highly visible in Kabul, with vehicles being searched and some roads closed to traffic.
Afghans expressed frustration over polling stations not opening on time, absent election staff, missing election materials, and technical glitches with biometric voter verification devices.
Initial figures from the electoral commission showed that about 3 million voters cast ballots at some 4,500 polling stations. About 2,500 of the polling stations originally planned to operate remained closed because of security concerns or other issues.
Almost 9 million people had registered to vote in the elections, which are seen as a key test of the government’s ability to provide security across the country.
Akhtar Mohammad Ibrahimi, the deputy interior minister, said 36 people were killed in 193 militant-led attacks across the country -- 27 civilians of them civilians, eight police were officers, and one was an Afghan soldier.
Assailants used grenades, small arms, mortars, and rocket launchers in various attacks, he said, adding that security forces killed at least killed 31 insurgents.
At one polling station in the capital Kabul, a suicide bomber killed at least 10 people, including police officers and voters, officials said.
Earlier, multiple blasts struck other stations in Kabul, leaving at least three dead and over 30 wounded, health officials said. In the central province of Ghor, 11 police officers were killed while three people were killed in the northern province of Kunduz.
Abdul Badi Sayad, the head of the Independent Election Commission, pleaded for patience with the new biometric system and said that dozens of teachers who had been trained in the system did not show up for work at the polling stations.
The Transparent Election Foundation of Afghanistan, a civil action group, said its team of observers found almost a third of polling centers in Kabul were not in a position to use biometric equipment.
The new technology, aimed at preventing election fraud, was rushed in at the last minute.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani voted early in the day. Later, in a televised speech, he congratulated his fellow citizens for voting and praised the security forces.
"I thank you from the bottom of my heart," he said.
"Today we proved together that we uphold democracy. With casting our ballots without fear we honor the sacrifices of the fallen," he wrote in a tweet.
Photos posted on social media showed scores of men and women holding their identification documents lining up outside polling stations across the country amid a heavy security presence.
RFE/RL correspondents in Kabul and other locations reported problems at some polling stations. Outside one station in the northern province of Parwan, there was a long line of eager voters who waited patiently despite technical problems.
In a fresh warning issued on October 20, the Taliban urged voters to boycott the "sham and theatrical process to protect their lives."
Candidates, campaign rallies, and senior security officials have been targeted in deadly attacks by Taliban and Islamic State (IS) extremists – including suicide attacks, motorcycle bombings, and drive-by shootings.
During the three-week campaign period, two candidates and 34 civilians were killed in militant attacks.
Eight other candidates were killed by militants during the run-up to campaigning, and the fate of two abducted candidates remains unknown.
Altogether, there are more than 2,500 candidates -- mostly running as independents -- contesting 249 seats in Afghanistan’s lower house of parliament, known as the Wolesi Jirga. Of those candidates, 417 are women.
But no major opposition party is poised to win enough seats to contest the national unity government of President Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah.