KABUL (Reuters) - Former warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, now leader of one of Afghanistan's most powerful political parties, on Wednesday denounced chaotic delays at polling stations in last weekend's parliamentary elections as a "disgrace".
The comments, after a meeting with candidates from different provinces, echo longstanding complaints from Hekmatyar's Hizb-i Islami and other parties, which have kept up a constant stream of criticism of the election process for months.
"We have received countless complaints about the election and the issue has reached the height of disgrace," he said in a statement.
According to the Independent Election Commission, some 4 million people voted, but Hekmatyar said more than half the nation was intentionally excluded.
"The election commission failed to hold fair and free elections," it said.
With Taliban militants operating freely across much of the country and amid heavy pressure from international partners for the vote to be held, the election was seen as a major test of the credibility of the Western-backed government.
Hizb-i Islami said it would announce whether it would accept the results after consultation with other parties once counting is completed next month but the statement points to potential protests and accusations of corruption and electoral fraud.
Hekmatyar, whose fighters killed thousands in Kabul during the bloody civil war of the 1990s, remains a divisive figure in Afghanistan more than a year after he returned from exile. But Hizb-i Islami is one of Afghanistan's major political movements, drawing its support mainly from ethnic Pashtuns.
Mass political parties, mainly divided along ethnic lines, are relatively undeveloped in Afghanistan. Only around seven percent of the 2,500 candidates running represented a party, with the rest standing as independents.
Under Afghanistan's constitution, most political power is held by the president and parliament's job is mainly to review or oversee legislation.
But the parties have the potential to mobilise protests by groups that feel they lost out in an election marred by a series of technical and organizational failures that forced voters to wait for hours in some cases before casting a ballot.
Issues including the late opening of polling stations, lack of election materials and the failure of many of the biometric voter verification devices introduced at the last minute led to more than 13,000 complaints registered with election authorities.
(Reporting by Abdul Qadir Sediqi; Editing by Nick Macfie)