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Voting begins in Afghan parliamentary polls

Afghanistan's parliamentary elections began nationwide on Saturday amid tight security and fears of widespread fraud.

world Updated: Sep 18, 2010 09:04 IST

Afghanistan's parliamentary elections began nationwide on Saturday amid tight security and fears of widespread fraud.

A total of 12.5 million Afghans are eligible to vote for more than 2,500 candidates vying for 249 seats in the lower house of parliament, the Wolesi Jirga. Around 400 women are among those fighting the second elections since the fall of the Taliban in 2001.

According to the country's electoral law, the candidates run without party affiliation, in a system that is apparently designed to prevent ethnic factionalism. But the post-Taliban constitution allocates a quarter of seats in the lower house to women.

More than 110,000 Afghan police and army personnel are deployed in and around nearly 6,000 polling stations. Due to a lack of adequate security, around 15 percent, or more than 1,000 polling sites, remained closed, most of them in the country's south and east.

The Taliban have threatened voters and vowed to derail the polling with bombings.

The election is seen as a big test for President Hamid Karzai to legitimise his rule in the eyes of the Afghan people following the presidential elections last year, which were marred by insurgent attacks and massive fraud.

Voting began at 7:00 a.m. (0230 GMT) and was to continue until 4 p.m. The initial results were expected by early next month, while the final verified results were due to be announced around the end of October.

Many candidates and observers said there was the possibility of fraud and double voting as fake voting cards have been sold across the country. Millions of fake cards are said to have been printed in Pakistan.