Millions of Afghans braved threats of Taliban attacks on polling stations and retaliation against voters to go to the polls Thursday. There was violence and intimidation across the country, blamed on the Taliban, including rocket attacks, explosions, armed assaults, theft and burning of ballot boxes and blocking of roads. The government says 26 people, including civilians, soldiers and policemen died in election-related attacks.
President Hamid Karzai says the election is a success, despite attacks in 15 provinces.
The president says the Afghan people dared rockets, explosions, suicide bombers and intimidation. Despite this, he adds, they came out to vote.
Mr. Karzai, the favorite in pre-election surveys, needs to capture more than 50 percent of the votes to win another term and avoid a runoff. Partial results are expected to be released before Sunday.
Amir Khan, voting at a Kabul mosque, says the Taliban threats to disrupt the election and chop off fingers of voters did not deter him.
Khan says he was not at all fearful, because the government has good control of security and thus he has no reason to fear the Taliban.
Officials: massive security helped
Government officials say the massive security presence in the capital and elsewhere disrupted many attacks, including one on a top Kabul hotel and the attempted takeover of ministry buildings.
In addition to the violence, there also were allegations of vote-buying, ballot box stuffing, shortages of ballots and fake voter cards.
Member of Parliament Fawzia Kufi tells VOA she witnessed Independent Election Commission personnel filling out women's ballots.
"The level of fraud and interference by the election staff, by the local officials was very high," Kufi said. "I have visited a site. The IEC staff were filling out the ballots on their behalf. This, I think, is going to affect the credibility of the result of the election and the government, which is going to be created as a result of this election."
Afghanistan's deputy chief electoral officer, Zekria Barakzai, in a VOA interview, said such complaints are being taken seriously.
"We will investigate any kind of fraudulent activities... and, during the day, we have received a number of these kind of reports, and we took immediate action," Barakzai said.
International observers, monitors visited polls
The process is also under the scrutiny of thousands of monitors and observers from domestic and international organizations.
The most prominent observer was the top United Nations official in the country, Kai Eide, who spoke to VOA News outside a voting center he inspected.
"What is the sense that fills me most today, when this election day is over, it is profound respect for the Afghan people. For those who have organised the elections, and for all those who have turned out, determined to take part in shaping the future of this country."
There are about 100,000 NATO-led and American troops in the country.
Former U.S. Congressman Jim Moody toured polling places in Kabul as an observer for Democracy International. He tells VOA News what he saw appeared "very smooth and orderly."
"No election is perfect, including in the United States," Moody noted. " We've had our problems. Given the circumstances that this country is still at war, there's tremendous internal conflict, I think we really have to congratulate the Afghan people and the Afghan authorities."
Voters hope for peaceful future
Student Ramin Karimi says he voted for a candidate he hopes can bring peace to the country.
Karimi tells VOA he wants a president who will end war, do a good job and rescue Afghanistan from its present condition.
Voters also cast ballots for advisory provincial councils.