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Afghanistan Set for Landmark Election, But Are the Voters Ready?


Election organizers in Afghanistan are making last minute arrangements for Sunday's landmark parliamentary elections. But, despite the logistical preparations, many analysts and even some candidates say the voters themselves may not be ready.

Noor Agha Roheen says he is nearly finished with his campaign. After weeks and weeks of meetings and presentations throughout Kabul, all he can do now is await the voters' decision.

A former college professor, he says he put a lot of thought into his political agenda. If he is elected, he says, he knows exactly what he wants to do in Afghanistan's new National Assembly, its first in more than three decades.

Unfortunately, he says, the public is not quite so well informed. In fact, he says, most of the people here have no real idea what it is they are voting for.

Nine out of 10 people, Mr. Roheen says, do not know what the new parliament is supposed to do. Even some of the candidates have no clue what their role will be in the new government.

According to the country's new constitution, drafted after the fundamentalist Islamic Taleban regime was ousted in 2001, the parliament is meant to balance the president's power to set national policy.

Its members will review the government's economic and social development plans, and approve presidential nominees for the Supreme Court. The assembly can also initiate new legislation, which the president can either accept or decline.

But many candidates, most of whom have never worked in government before, are promising voters more than they can possibly deliver.

From new schools to new cars, candidates with little understanding of democracy are guaranteeing immediate results, if they are elected.

Paul Fishstein is the deputy director of the Afghan Research and Evaluation Unit. He says the public is developing dangerously high expectations, just as the country's new democracy is struggling to get on its feet. As a result, he says, the winners in Sunday's election take office at an immediate disadvantage. "The population that does have some optimism about the parliament making a difference, there may be a feeling of letdown, if they feel the parliament cannot solve the problems or produce a more effective government," Fishtein said.

More than 12,000,000 people are registered to vote in Sunday's election, and turnout is expected to be high. But experts such as Mr. Fishstein warn that enthusiasm for voting does not always translate into an understanding of the sometimes slow process of building a successful democracy.