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Illegal Drugs and Related Violence May Influence Afghanistan’s Elections

In Afghanistan, the Taleban has threatened candidates, election workers and voters prior to next Sunday's elections hoping to disrupt them. VOA's Kathie Scarrah reports the elections may also be affected by daunting logistics and some controversial candidates.

More than 12 million Afghans are expected to head to the polls Sunday to elect 249 members of the People's Council, the lower house of the National Assembly. Candidates will also be elected to seats on 34 provincial councils.

Of the more than 5,800 registered candidates, the Afghanistan Electoral Complaint Commission has eliminated 45 candidates from running. The Commission determined they had been implicated in activities ranging from drug production and trafficking, to human rights abuses and terrorist links.

Antonio Maria Costa, the Director General of the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime told VOA he believes there are still many corrupt candidates on the electoral lists. After the election, he says the U.N. will ask all winning candidates to sign a document of resignation. The resignation would be enforced if it is discovered that the newly elected official was engaged in corrupt activities prior to the election.

"We will use this as a political weapon to make sure that even those who refuse to sign such a document are identified because this could be a leading indicator that they are doing something which is not right,” said Mr. Costa. “I think this is a major step forward that we need to introduce. It will be innovative."

Mr. Costa says opium cultivation is the primary source for corruption in Afghanistan. This year, Afghanistan was responsible for 87 percent of the world's opium production -- representing 52 percent of Afghanistan's gross national product. Afghanistan's opium production has led to crime, violence and terrorist activities.

The director general explained. "The heroin which is produced in Afghanistan from the local opium is exported. And it is exported through areas which are characterized by permanent presence of Taleban settlements or even some of the splinter groups from al-Qaida and so forth. And of course when it transits, the traffickers' convoys go through these areas we know that a certain amount of charges are placed upon them and these become sources of funding for terrorism."

President Hamid Karzai has led the campaign to convince large numbers of farmers to abstain from poppy cultivation. In 2005, Afghanistan saw a 20 percent reduction in the number of poppy fields planted by farmers. But that did not result in a comparative drop in opium productivity. Abundant moisture throughout the year and an absence of poppy diseases actually resulted in a gain in opium productivity this year.

Even with fewer farmers growing poppies, eradicating the industry completely has threatened the drug industry. The result has been a significant increase in violence.

More than 1200 people have been killed in Afghanistan this year, including six parliamentary candidates. International election observers had warned that parliamentary elections would provide an opportunity for intimidation by insurgents and provincial warlords tied to al-Qaida and the former Taleban.

Afghanistan's Health Minister, Dr. Amin Fatimie, told VOA the threat of continued violence won't stop the election. "These activities of Taliban or any other persons who have been trying to create problems for the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan will not have any impact on the election. And the election will go on very well."

Forty million ballots were printed in Britain and Austria, then had to be distributed to 6300 polling places. That presented a logistical challenge and forced election officials in some cases to rely on camels and donkeys to transport the ballots prior to Sunday's election.

The presidential and legislative elections were scheduled to be held together in June 2004. Last October President Hamid Karzai won the presidential election in a landslide. But Afghanistan's legislative elections were postponed twice due to disagreements over district boundaries and inaccurate census figures.