KABUL, 25 Apr 2005 (IRIN) - Six months after a successful presidential poll, Afghanistan's fledgling political system is starting to prepare for a much more ambitious undertaking: parliamentary elections slated for 18 September.
Already, colourful posters conveying party messages can be seen in public places in the capital Kabul, and in some provincial towns. Local TV and radio stations have begun airing debates and newspapers are full of editorials and comment on what sort of parliament might emerge from the historic election.
However, in a country new to democracy and elections, where insecurity, illiteracy and strong conservative traditions continue to hold sway, holding a genuinely representative national parliamentary poll remains a huge challenge. The logistics of moving voting materials and equipment to around 30,000 polling stations in 5,000 locations across a country largely devoid of roads and infrastructue present another hurdle to election organisers.
TIMING AND LOGISTICS
The parliamentary election date has had to be put back at least twice. The poll for parliament was originally scheduled for directly after the presidential election in October 2004, but was postponed due to poor security, lack of administrative capacity and slow progress on a census of the country's population.
The logistics of running a parliamentary election in Afghanistan will be far more complicated than the presidential election and will require better organisation and monitoring, authorities say.
"There is no doubt that this election will be a very hard contest. We will have all in all 69 different elections, two in each province and probably one for the Kuchi [nomad] community separately, Peter Erben, the UN chief electoral officer for Afghanistan, told IRIN in Kabul.
There will be two elections in each province on the same day, one for the 249-member Wolusi Jirga [lower house of parliament] and another for the provincial councils. Each provincial council will have between nine and 29 members, depending on the population level.
Erben said that he was aware that the local dimension to the forthcoming election meant there was potential for conflict - with local warlords likely to put undue pressure on voters to cast their ballots in the their favour.
JEMB CONFIDENT BUT ACCEPTS THERE ARE REAL CHALLENGES
The UN-government Joint Electoral Management Body (JEMB) that oversees elections, has recently been reconstituted in the run up to September's vote. The JEMB consists of nine Afghan members appointed by President Hamid Karzai and four international commissioners appointed by the UN.
The electoral body has already started deploying nearly 6,000 local staff and 400 international election workers to eight regional and 34 provincial offices to begin the process of compiling voter rolls and identifying places where people can vote on the day itself. The JEMB estimates staff numbers will swell to 200,000 as polling day approaches.
The electoral body said it has learnt many important lessons from the October elections, which were marred by voter intimidation and a dispute over the use of indelible ink, designed to stop people voting twice. Ten electoral workers were killed by insurgents in the days and weeks before the poll.
But the JEMB remains confident this year's election will take place in a much safer environment. "We believe in very close cooperation with Afghan and international security forces, and that we will be able to go further in our ability to secure our staff and voters all over Afghanistan," Erben said.
REGISTRATION OF CANDIDATES AND VOTERS
Registration of candidates is expected to begin late in April. Nearly 10,000 candidates are expected to nominate themselves for election. According to electoral law, candidates must be Afghan citizens over 25 years of age presenting the signature of at least 300 voters in support of their application.
The JEMB then has the task of vetting and registering the thousands of parliamentary hopefuls before the end of May, to keep the whole process on schedule. "The process of looking through that many candidates in only a matter of weeks stands as one of the most significant challenges," a JEMB statement said.
Meanwhile, a Single Non-Transferable Vote system (SNTV) has been chosen by the government of Afghanistan as the most appropriate voting system for the national parliament and provincial councils.
Under the SNTV system, voters select just one candidate from those listed on the ballot paper. The candidates with the highest number of votes wins the seat or seats allocated to their respective constituencies.
A public awareness campaign and a supplemental registration exercise for those eligible Afghans who did not have the opportunity to register as voters last year are also being introduced shortly. The registration is planned to last for four weeks, starting in July.
But some politicians are already grumbling that the poll will fall far short of international electoral standards. "This time the UN says it wants 'an acceptable and credible' election, why not a fair and free election? I think they are accepting that there will be fraud and mistakes, this is unacceptable," Haji Merajudin, a candidate who hopes to stand for election in the central Kabul constituency, told IRIN.
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