UNITED NATIONS, April 6 (Xinhua) -- UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Sunday congratulated Afghans on Saturday's "historic" presidential and provincial council elections, calling them "an important step forward in Afghanistan's first democratic transition of power."
"The millions of women and men who cast their ballots are a testament to the courage and the commitment of Afghans to exercise their rights and shape their future," Ban said in a statement issued here by his spokesperson, adding that he welcomed "their momentous achievement."
"Afghans braved threats and intimidation to exercise their right to vote, and in doing so, they have sent a powerful message that the perpetrators of violence cannot win," he said.
The polling for Afghanistan's presidential election was held on Saturday in a largely peaceful manner despite some attacks and complaints, Afghan election officials said. The voters also cast their votes for provincial councils' candidates on the same day.
Out of 12 million eligible Afghans, nearly 7 million voters, 36 percent of them women, cast their ballots, according to election officials.
In his statement, the UN chief noted particularly the strong participation of women in the polls, calling this "another step forward for Afghan women in taking their rightful place in society and having a say in their country's future on an equal basis with Afghan men."
Ban also commended the Afghan national security forces for their professionalism and dedication that enabled citizens to vote in face of serious security threats.
"He congratulates Afghanistan's independent electoral institutions and looks forward to their ongoing efforts in ensuring that the final results reflect the will of the voters," said the statement.
"The secretary-general encourages all Afghans to continue supporting the electoral institutions as they discharge their critical responsibilities fairly, transparently and in the interests of the Afghan people," it added.
The leading candidates for the Afghan presidential election are former foreign ministers Abdullah Abdullah and Zulmai Rassoul, as well as former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai.
Preliminary election results will come out on April 24 and the final result will be announced in mid-May.
If no candidate receives majority votes, a run-off between the top two candidates will be held on May 28.