Election workers used trucks, helicopters and camels to collect ballot boxes from across Afghanistan yesterday after millions of people defied Taliban threats and voted for a legislature for the first time in more than 30 years.
A truck transporting ballot boxes in the eastern province of Nangarhar was badly damaged by a roadside bomb hours after polling stations closed late Sunday, but no one was injured and the votes were not affected, police said.
World leaders including US President George W. Bush praised the election, although unofficial surveys in the war-battered country indicated a lower turnout than in last year's presidential vote.
The elections for the lower house of the national assembly and 32 provincial councils were Afghanistan's first since 1969, and viewed as a crucial step in its progress toward democracy after decades of bloodshed.
The Taliban militia, overthrown in a US-led campaign in late 2001 for refusing to hand over Osama bin Laden after the Sept. 11 attacks on the US, failed to disrupt the vote as they had promised.
Nine people were killed in militant attacks on Saturday and Sunday including a French commando, but only three voters were injured in violence specifically linked to the election.
Taliban insurgents had killed several candidates and vowed to derail vote preparations, but had said they would not attack polling booths on election day. Days before the election, though, a Taliban spokesman warned voters to boycott the election or face possible attacks.
The vote-counting was due to start today with results not expected for more than two weeks, chief electoral officer Peter Erben said.
Staff began to collect the 120,000 boxes from 6,300 voting centers immediately after the polls closed on Sunday and work continued overnight to take them to 32 counting centers, he said.
Election workers were "bringing in the boxes and reconciling that the right contents are there," he said.
"We anticipate some will take over three days to transport, which will happen on mules, donkeys and camels," he said.
Less than 50 percent of all registered voters participated in the election, according to early poll data released yesterday.
Computer analysis of early results from a third of the voting stations showed that only 6 million Afghans turned out to vote, Erben said.
There were more than 12.5 million Afghans registered as voters for Sunday's election. In last October's presidential election the turnout was estimated at 70 percent.
Erben said that despite the low turnout, the election was nevertheless a success.
"We are content with the participation," he said.
The transport of the ballots to the election centers were without incident, however the poll was marred by attacks and other incidences of violence.
The counting of the ballots is to begin today and take until Oct. 9, with the final results to be announced on Oct. 22.
The main group of independent observers, Free and Fair Elections in Afghanistan, also said that its initial estimates found just 50 percent of registered voters took part in the election. It deployed more than 7,000 observers.
The same figure was given separately by the Afghan media group Kilid, which had correspondents in 24 of the 34 provinces.
The turnout on Sunday among women, long downtrodden in the conservative Islamic country, was however said to be particularly high, which Karzai hailed as a "very positive step."