ANKARA, 29 Sep 2004 (IRIN) - With just 10 days to go to polling, preparations to give hundreds of thousands of refugees living in Iran the chance to vote in Afghanistan's presidential elections next month are proceeding well.
"Most of the eligible voters here, most Afghan refugees here, will have the opportunity to cast a ballot," Craig Jenness, head of the International Organisation for Migration's (IOM) Out of Country Registration and Voting Programme (OCRV), told IRIN on Wednesday from the Iranian capital, Tehran.
"It's a really tight time frame," Jenness said, noting, however, that he remained confident that arrangements for the election on 9 October would be in place.
The IOM, on behalf of the Afghan Joint Electoral Management Body (JEMB) and the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), is overseeing what looks set to become the largest out of country voting for refugees every held. Over one million Afghan refugees living in Iran and Pakistan - the two largest host countries to the Afghan diaspora - are expected to vote.
And though there were no exact number of eligible voters in Iran, given a mass registration of Afghans living in the country in 2003, the number of returns since April 2002, and using a figure of 57 percent of the population being over the age of 18 (the age required to vote), Jenness estimated that up to 600,000 Afghans in the country were eligible to participate.
"Anyone who has documentation to prove that he is Afghan, residing legally in Iran, and is over the age of 18, can vote," he said.
Headquartered in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, the IOM-OCRV maintains three regional offices: the western Pakistani cities of Peshawar and Quetta, and Tehran.
Voting centres have been set up in seven Iranian cities: Tehran, Qom, Esfahan, Shiraz, Kerman, Zahedan and Mashad, areas where the vast majority of Afghans live.
"We are focusing our activities there, where upwards of 85 percent of the Afghan population lives," he explained, adding, however, Afghans living in other provinces could travel and vote in any of the polling stations if they had the proper documentation, but might chose not to because of the distances.
Still another concern he had was the fact that the elections would fall on a Saturday, a normal working day in Iran. "It may be more difficult for some people to vote on Saturday, but we hope employers will be flexible."
According to the IOM, some 1,150 polling stations will open on 9 October in around 130 locations to cater for the voters. The total number of stations takes into account the entire eligible population of both genders in the target areas.
"We are hopeful that the turnout of women will be good," he said.
"IOM is organising the elections with the government of Iran," the IOM official noted, adding that within the past 45 days they had succeeded in hiring 8,000 Afghan staff, who would be managing most of the process on the ground.
"It's very interesting and in some ways inspiring working with the Afghans, many of whom have never cast a ballot in their lives. There is a lot of enthusiasm for this election," he said.
... Payvand News - 9/30/04 ... --