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Preparations Begin for Next Afghan Elections

Afghan election staff prepare to count ballots in October 2004, a day after Afghanistan's first-ever direct presidential election
Rules for Afghanistan's first post-Taliban parliamentary elections have been announced, and candidates will begin registering on Saturday. The September vote is considered critical for Afghanistan's fledgling democracy.

Starting Saturday, any Afghan citizen - man or woman - over the age of 25, can register to run in the legislative elections scheduled for September 18.

Candidates will be vying for spots on both new district councils and Afghanistan's new 249-seat Parliament.

Prospective candidates will have three weeks to fill out an application and collect 300 signatures to qualify.

The elections are seen as the third major test for Afghanistan's nascent democracy. A new constitution was adopted early last year, and in October the country held its first-ever presidential election.

But experts such as Brad Adams, regional director for the U.S. group Human Rights Watch, say September's election will be the biggest test yet - because representatives are elected locally, and that is where much of the political power in Afghanistan currently lies.

"The stakes are much higher locally, because power is held in Afghanistan in a very decentralized manner and what goes on in different parts of country, who controls resources, money, guns…who decides the role of woman, is largely a local question," says Mr. Adams.

The process is managed by a joint United Nations-Afghan electoral commission. Said Azam Iqbal, the agency's acting spokesman, says public interest in the election is sky-high.

"The people are very excited about this. We are expecting between five- and 10-thousand candidates will be there," says Mr. Iqbal.

Political parties are already posting fliers in Kabul and other major cities and a few political debates have already been held.

The polling was originally slated to coincide with last October's presidential vote, but security concerns and organizational shortfalls forced a year-long delay.

Afghan officials say the procedure this time will be both secure, and on schedule.