Election officials in Afghanistan say they are "100 percent" confident that all preparations for Sunday's parliamentary and provincial council elections will be completed in time. The massive undertaking involves delivering ballot boxes by donkey, horse and camel. Officials also say they have eliminated several candidates from the race because of their links to armed groups.
Officials are calling Afghanistan's coming election day the most logistically challenging elections ever held. After 25 years of war, Afghanistan has little in the way of roads or infrastructure to move ballots and material to remote locations.
Jim Grierson is the head of logistics for the Joint Electoral Management Body, the combined Afghan and United Nations group that is organizing the vote. He says that given the logistical problems, the staff had to get creative.
"Where trucks, tractors, helicopters and cargo planes can't reach, we are relying on our animal assets. We're using over 1200 donkeys, more than 300 horses. We're even using 24 camels in some places," said Mr. Grierson. "Given the size of the some of the ballots collectively, they are very weighty. Luckily for us, donkeys can carry up to 150 kilograms."
Logistical preparations have already involved more than three dozen flights by jumbo airplanes to transport more than 40 million ballot papers to Afghanistan from Britain and Austria where they were printed. By last week, all of the ballots and more than 90 percent of polling center materials had been delivered to each of Afghanistan's 34 provinces. There will be close to 6,300 polling centers across the country.
Some 12 million Afghans are expected to go to the polls Sunday to elect members of the country's new 249-member parliament and its provincial councils. More than 5,800 candidates are running.
The elections follow last year's presidential race and are part of the process of forming a democratic government in Afghanistan after more than two decades of war.
Remnants of Afghanistan's former Taliban regime have threatened to disrupt the polls, and there have been a number of violent incidents in the past few months - including attacks on candidates. But so far, officials say, there appears to be no concerted effort to undermine the election preparations.
In the October 2004 presidential ballot, it was a more mundane issue that drew attention.
Then, some election staff mistakenly used the wrong ink to mark voters' fingers so they could not vote twice. That brought allegations some people washed their hands and voted again.
The issue has been addressed. Peter Erben is the chief electoral officer for the Joint Electoral Management Body. "We have a much more potent ink in a bottle where people are required to put their finger all the way into the ink," he said. "And they will do so before they vote to allow plenty of time for the ink to set and dry before they leave the polling station."
Electoral officials also said Monday that 21 candidates have been disqualified from the elections because of illegal links to armed groups. Officials would not provide details of those links. But at least three of those removed from the race appear to be members of the former Taleban government, which was ousted in 2001.