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5 Apr, 2014 17:47

Surprise 7 million Afghans flock to vote amid scattered reports of violence

Some seven million Afghan voters took part in the country's presidential election on Saturday, despite Taliban threats to disrupt the vote “at any cost.” Polling was extended by over an hour and ballot papers became scarce due to the high turnout.

A total of 12 million Afghan citizens were eligible to vote, meaning the turnout was roughly 58 percent, election commission chief Ahmad Yousuf Nuristani told reporters, citing preliminary estimates.

Afghan voters queue at a local polling station in the Jamee mosque of Herat on April 5, 2014. (AFP Photo / Aref Karimi)

“The report we have so far indicates that many people participated in these elections and even in some stations we ran out of ballot papers,” he said. “We have already sent some ballots to those stations which we had reserved in provinces.”

Turnout levels came as a shock to officials. “People did not expect this number of people to come out to vote,” Toryalai Wesa, governor of the southern city of Kandahar, told reporters. “They thought the turnout would be similar to the past and that's why they sent fewer voting materials this time.”

Only 4.6 million people turned out at the last election in 2009.

#Afghanistan voted for its next president. Here was the scene earlier today at a polling station in… http://t.co/asYbpTlbCi

— Lucy Kafanov (@LucyKafanov) April 5, 2014

In Kabul, polling stations made the decision to extend voting hours far past the official closing time of 4 p.m. in order to facilitate the numbers.

Three hundred and fifty thousand Afghan servicemen and law enforcement agencies were dispatched to cope with the anticipated violence and threats from the Taliban.

The process was not without security problems. Two journalists were shot on Friday, one fatally, prior to the opening of the polls.

An Afghan soldier (L) watches as a policeman searches voters prior to entering a local polling station to cast their vote in Kandahar on April 5, 2014. (AFP Photo / Banaras Khan)

Nine police, seven soldiers, and 89 Taliban members were killed across the country on Saturday, according to the Ministry of the Interior. DNA India reported that two of the policemen were killed by a roadside bomb in Kalat, Zabul province, located in southern Afghanistan. Two other people were injured in the blast.

Four voters were also wounded, one critically, in a blast at a polling station in Logar, in the country’s southeast. The explosion occurred a few hours after the polls opened.

RT’s Lucy Kafanov in Kabul reported that 211 polling centers couldn't be opened on Saturday due to security reasons, according to the Independent Election Commission (IEC) chief.

#AFG#IEC head says 211 polling centers couldn't be opened today due to security. Smoother sailing in #Kabul: pic.twitter.com/11mpNM7NIK

— Lucy Kafanov (@LucyKafanov) April 5, 2014

Hundreds gathered in the western Kabul neighborhood of Dasht-e-Barchi, waiting for most of the day to vote. However, the turnout outside the capital was reportedly lower.

“Disturbing reports out of parts of Wardak Province. Intimidation, fear of voting, almost nonexistent turnout in some areas,” RT's Kafanov tweeted.

The Electoral Complaints Commission (EEC) announced on Saturday that at least 200 complains were made about both the presidential and local elections.The number of complaints is expected to rise by Monday.

Some minor violations were reported, such as SMS messages being used in an attempt to influence voters. Mobile phone companies suspended services temporarily.

Eight candidates are fighting to take President Hamid Karzai's seat. Karzai is unable to seek a third consecutive term, as the practice is barred by the constitution.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai casta his vote at a local polling station in Kabul on April 5, 2014. (AFP Photo / Wakil Kohsar)

None of the candidates will likely be able to obtain the 50 percent necessary for victory; a second anticipated round has been scheduled for May 28. The two highest-placed candidates will compete and the winner will be determined by a simple majority.

Former foreign ministers Abdullah Abdullah and Zalmai Rassoul, and former finance minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai are believed to have the highest chance of winning the election, according to Afghan and foreign observers. However, it will take weeks to gather the votes from around the country. The initial results are not expected to be released until the end of April.

Afghan residents wishing to vote line up underneath a billboard showing images of Afghan President Hamid Karzai (L) and of deceased Afghan figures Burhandin Rabani (R) and Ahmad Shah Massoud (C) outside a polling station in Mazar-i-Sharif on April 5, 2014. (AFP Photo / Farshad Usyan)

An Afghan policeman tries to keep order as voters wait in line outside a polling station inBamiyan on April 5, 2014. (AFP Photo / Shefayee)

An Afghan woman carrying a child casts her vote at a polling station in Adraskan district, Herat province April 5, 2014. (Reuters/Omar Sobhani)

Afghan women queue outside a school to vote in presidential elections in the northwestern city of Herat on April 5, 2014. (AFP Photo / Aref Karimi)

An Afghan woman shows her inked finger after voting at a polling station in the northwestern city of Herat on April 5, 2014. (AFP Photo / Aref Karimi)

Afghan election workers sort presidential ballots by the light of a lantern after a polling station was closed for voting in the northwestern city of Herat on April 5, 2014. (AFP Photo / Aref Karimi)