Stage set for landmark Afghan presidential polls

KABUL, Afghanistan

The race for landmark Afghan presidential polls, scheduled for Saturday, entered a crucial final stage amid fears of Taliban attacks.

The 28-day election campaign of the presidential candidates ended on Wednesday midnight for Saturday’s polls under the rules of the Independent Election Commission (IEC).

Under the Constitution, a presidential candidate needs more than 50% of the votes to be declared the winner.

If no candidate wins the simple majority on Saturday, a second and final round between the top two candidates of the first round will be held on Nov. 23.

The top election body will announce the preliminary results on Oct. 19 while the final results of the election — where a total of 15 candidates are running for the top seat — will be announced on Nov. 7.

Among the front-running candidates are the incumbent president Mohammad Ashraf Ghani and his power-sharing chief executive Abdullah Abdullah and former Mujahideen leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.

Nearly 9.7 million voters have registered to cast ballots on Saturday in the fourth presidential polls in the war-ravaged country following the fall of the Taliban regime in the 2001.

Some 3.3 million women are expected to vote to elect their president, constituting 35% of the total number of voters.

On Thursday, the IEC announced it is well-prepared for the mammoth exercise amid grim security concerns.

“The elections shall be well-regarded as a national process and as the bases for peoples’ power. The Independent Election Commission considers itself as a technical organization responsible for holding fair and just elections in line with the Constitution”, it said in a statement.

The Interior Ministry mobilized over 70,000 security forces to ensure peace and order during the polling day.

Afghanistan closed on Thursday its key Torkham crossing point with Pakistan ahead of the polls and banned entry of cargo carrier trucks into the capital Kabul for four days over security concerns.

Meanwhile, the Taliban’s fierce military commission warned Afghans Thursday against “throwing themselves in to danger” by taking part in the polls.

Using social media, the group threatened that the Taliban militants across the country have been directed to “prevent this process throughout the country by making use of everything at their disposal.”

A day earlier, Tadamichi Yamamoto, the special representative of UN Secretary General for Afghanistan, called on the Taliban to avoid any activity that would interfere with the elections, particularly with regard to the safety of voters and all other civilians engaged in the election.

Ahead of the polls, the country has witnessed enormous surge in violence, claiming hundreds of lives on all sides in recent weeks.
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