As voters across Afghanistan braved inclement weather and security threats to cast their ballots in Saturday’s presidential and provincial council elections, the top United Nations official there congratulated them for participating in this “historic moment” for the country.

“We are receiving reports that many people are showing their wish to vote; they are queuing in places all around the country,” the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan, Ján Kubiš, told journalists while on a visit to a polling centre in the capital, Kabul.

Afghans thronged to polling stations, which opened their doors at 7:00 a.m. today, to cast their ballots for a successor to President Hamid Karzai and members of 34 provincial councils. The polls will result in the first transfer of power from one democratically-elected leader to another in the country.

Shukria, a resident of Kabul, expressed her hopes for the country’s next leader. “I want my next president to improve security, creating a better environment for us to live in, as well as bring a higher standard of education to the country.”

According to Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission (IEC), polling took place in 6,212 polling centres across the country, while a further 250 polling centres — that were originally scheduled to be kept open — were closed down due to the failure to dispatch necessary polling materials in light of adverse security developments.

“I am hopeful for the future — I have lots of children and I vote for the future of my children,” said 70-year-old Haji Awlia Qul, in the north-eastern province of Kunduz. “It doesn’t matter even if I die for this. The important thing is the bright future of my children. I vote for their better future and for the well-being of my grandchildren.”

Unlike the countries previous elections, which were conducted jointly by the Afghan authorities and the UN, the world body does not formally have a role in these polls, leaving Afghan authorities to organize and manage the entire electoral process.

The UN — primarily through the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) and the UN Development Programme (UNDP) — ¬has been advising on election-related matters and providing capacity building and technical support.

“I hope that everything will work well,” said Mr. Kubiš, who is also head of UNAMA. “I hope that people will come and will vote for their candidates — whoever that is, and candidates for the provincial council — in good numbers. And I hope that at the end of the day, we will be able to say this is really a historic moment, opening a totally new chapter for the country.”


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