KABUL, April 5 (Xinhua) -- The Afghan election chairman on Saturday thanked the people for coming out in huge numbers and exercising their right of franchise.
"I truly thanked the people of Afghanistan for taking part hugely in this historic election," Chairman of Independent Election Commission (IEC) Ahmad Yousuf Nouristani told reporters at a joint press briefing.
Afghans began voting on Saturday morning to elect a new president for the next five years in the first transfer of power through polling in the country's history.
Nearly 7 million voters cast their ballots, out of 12 million eligible Afghans, Nuristani noted.
A total of 6,218 polling centers remained open on the election day and around 7 million eligible voters, 36 percent of them women, had cast their votes, Nuristani said, adding the figures were based on initial reporting of IEC and could change.
Counting of the ballots had started right after the 10-hour polls which ended at 05:00 p.m. local time. It continued all the night and will end on April 20.
Nuristani also appreciated the efforts made by IEC staff, security forces, media and civil society for their role and cooperation with the IEC for achieving its objective of holding general elections in a free, fair and inclusive poll.
The Taliban insurgent group fighting the government has vowed to disrupt the election process. "The enemies vowed to halt electoral process. Our national security forces promised security. Today, I can say confidently the enemy failed," Afghan Interior Minister Mohammad Omar Daudzai at the same briefing.
The number of presidential candidates has dropped to eight after the withdrawal of three contenders from the race, and those running for the council seats in 34 provinces across the country exceed 2,700.
The leading candidates are former Foreign Ministers Abdullah Abdullah and Zulmai Rassoul as well as a former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai.
The preliminary results will come out on April 24 and the final result will be announced in mid May.
If any candidate do not receive 50 percent plus vote, then the polls will go for a second round between the top two candidates.
The run-off, in needed, will be hold on May 28.
Four civilians, seven soldiers and nine policemen were killed while 43 civilians were wounded on election day and the night before the day, the interior minister said while providing casualties statistic.
He said 89 Taliban insurgents and other militants were also killed over the last 24 hours as a result of engagements with security forces and military operations.