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Tensions High Ahead of Afghan Vote

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Sean Maroney

Polling centers across much of Afghanistan are due to open Saturday for the country's latest round of elections. Nearly 2,500 candidates are vying for 249 seats in Afghanistan's lower house of parliament, or wolesi jirga. Expectations for the vote are cautious as violence worsens in the country and memories remain of widespread voter fraud allegations in previous elections.

Security arrangements

Afghan forces have increased security across the country a day before Afghans head to the polls.

Shayan Nabil lives in the capital Kabul, where there was a noticeable increase in the presence of Afghan security forces on the streets Friday.

"It is a positive sign that we see our police forces there on the streets and checking vehicles and cars everywhere to provide a secure environment for the people of Afghanistan to go to polls tomorrow," Nabil said.

Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman Zahir Azimi tells VOA there are nearly 300,000 Afghan forces and 150,000 international forces participating in security for the election.

Apprehensions

He cautions that they cannot ignore the Taliban's repeated threats to disrupt voting with countrywide attacks.

He says that the way the war is going, no one can guarantee a peaceful election. But he says they have taken all the possible measures for one. He says that by the support of the Afghan people and by the mercy of God, they hope it will happen.

Insurgents have killed several candidates and campaign workers in the run-up to the September 18 vote. Election officials also say roughly 15 percent of more than 6,000 polling centers will not open due to poor security.

Another major concern is voter fraud. Last year's fraud-marred presidential vote nearly undermined the credibility of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, both in Afghanistan and the international community.

As voting closes Saturday, polling officials are expected to compile their station's results and then send the result sheets and votes to a tally center in Kabul.

Role of election commission

The Independent Election Commission, which runs the election process, says it has taken high-tech measures to ensure transparency.

Afghan Election Facts

  • More than 2,500 candidates are vying for 249 seats in the lower house of parliament or wolesi jirga.
  • One quarter or 68 of the legislative seats are reserved for women, and more than 400 female candidates are running in the elections.
  • Polls open at 7 a.m. (0230 UTC) and close at 4 p.m. (1130 UTC) local time on Saturday.
  • There are an estimated 17.5 million registered voters in Afghanistan, out of a population of about 28 million.
  • Close to 300,000 Afghan troops and police, backed by international forces, will be guarding polls across the country. Roughly 15 percent of the more than 6,800 polling centers will not open due to poor security.
  • Preliminary results are not expected before October 8.  Final results likely will be announced at the end of next month

IEC Chairman Fazal Ahmad Mainawi says cameras will watch the officials counting votes in the tally center. In previous elections, there were concerns that some tally center employees were recording incorrect figures on purpose for certain candidates.

Mainawi also says the IEC's website will make all the information available to the public.

He says that besides publishing the figures, officials will scan each result sheet and publish them on the IEC website.

Sustained pressure

United Nations envoy to Afghanistan Staffan de Mistura acknowledged Saturday's vote would not be perfect, but said it would be an improvement from the presidential poll.

Some candidates also are seeing this election as a chance to confront government corruption. Mr. Karzai has faced sustained pressure from the United States and its allies to combat it.

Earlier this month, U.S. President Barack Obama said that although some progress has been made, the government in Kabul is still a "long way" from where it needs to be.

Haroun Mir, a candidate from Kabul province, says the stakes are high in this election.

"If we fail this time and if the parliament is dysfunctional or will be dysfunctional like the Afghan government, I think the whole system will be paralyzed," Mir said.

He says if voter turnout remains low or allegations of widespread voter fraud tarnishes the election, the Taliban will win a major victory.

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