Afghans Vote as Kandahar’s Delayed Elections Begin

Security was tight in southern Kandahar on Saturday as voters went to the polls 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-borne 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.

First elections in 8 years

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.

Preliminary results of nationwide voting are not expected before mid-November.

Much at stake

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

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