Kabul: Afghan voters went to the polls Saturday to choose a successor to President Hamid Karzai, n a landmark election held as US-led forces wind down their long intervention in the country.
Security was tight as polls opened at 7:00 am (0230 GMT) after the Islamists rejected the election as a foreign plot and urged their fighters to attack polling staff, voters and security forces.
Afghanistan’s third presidential election brings an end to 13 years of rule by Karzai, who has held power since the Taliban were ousted in a US-led invasion in 2001, and will be the first democratic handover of power in the country’s turbulent history.
The NATO coalition force is pulling out its last 51,000 combat troops this year, leaving Afghan forces to battle the resilient Taliban insurgency without their help.
Poll security is a major concern following a string of high-profile attacks in the capital Kabul, most recently a suicide bombing at the Interior Ministry on Wednesday that killed six police officers.
Interior Minister Omar Daudzai said all 400,000 of Afghanistan’s police, army and intelligence services were being deployed to ensure security around the country.
While there have been no significant attacks on the candidates, a charity’s guesthouse, a luxury hotel and offices of the Independent Election Commission have all been hit.
Voters queued in cool damp weather before the start of the ballot in Kabul, with around 13.5 million people eligible to vote from an estimated total population of 28 million. Polls close at 4:00 pm.
As well as the first round of the presidential election, voters will also cast ballots for provincial councils.
The front-runners to succeed Karzai, who is constitutionally barred from standing again, are former foreign minister Zalmai Rassoul, Abdullah Abdullah — runner up in the 2009 election — and former academic Ashraf Ghani.
There is no clear favourite and if no candidate wins more than 50 percent of the vote in the first round — preliminary results for which will be announced on April 24 — a run-off is scheduled for late May.