An Afghan woman casts her vote at Amani high school, near the presidential palace in Kabul. Rahmat Gul/AP
Voting began on Saturday to elect a president for Afghanistan with more than 9 million Afghan registered voters potentially heading to the polls amid fears of violence and fraud.
Tens of thousands of Afghan forces were deployed across 34 provinces to protect voters and polling stations from Taliban attacks.
The hardline insurgent group has threatened voters to stay away from the election or face dire consequences.
About 9.6 million of Afghanistan’s 34 million people are registered to vote for one of 14 candidates at around 5,000 polling centers that will be protected by some 100,000 Afghan forces with air support from US forces.
More than 400 polling centers will remain closed because they are situated in areas under Taliban control. Hundreds more in schools, mosques and district centres will be closed because of security concerns.
The voting process is another source of concern. The Independent Election Commission (IEC) has come under criticism for issuing contradictory and unclear statements over what processes will be in place to prevent fraud if biometric systems fail during the eight hours of voting.
Four of the 18 candidates registered to contest for the top job dropped out of the race, but their names remain on the biometric voting devices.
The chief contenders are incumbent President Ashraf Ghani and his former deputy Abdullah Abdullah, both of whom came to power in 2014 after a bitterly contested election marred by fraud.
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"I hope whoever hears my words will support, even if it is with the word. We need to feel that we can heal each other’s wounds, support each other. I wish all of you success until we meet at the celebration that will mark Lebanon’s freedom. That day will come. "