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Intimidation, Insecurity Remain Concerns Before Afghan Election

With less than two weeks to go before Afghanistan holds its presidential election there is continuing concern about intimidation and insecurity.

A report issued by Afghanistan's Independent Human Rights Commission and the United Nations mission gives a mixed assessment of the ongoing campaign.

Monitors say while political rights of candidates and their supporters "have generally been respected" there has been documented violence. Notably there were four killings related to the election for the period covered by this report - the second half of July.

The monitors say women candidates have difficulty campaigning and female potential voters are being hindered from registering.

The joint report cites an upward trend of intimidation by what it calls anti-government elements, as well as rival candidates and their supporters. Security concerns are also limiting freedom of movement and open campaigning.

This all raises the issue as to whether Afghanistan can hold elections that can be deemed "free and fair."

U.N. Special Representative in Afghanistan Kai Eide says the same standards applied to developed Western democracies should not be used to evaluate a "complex" election in an unstable country with weak institutions.

"What we want to see is credible elections, inclusive elections and the elections where the results are accepted by the Afghan people," said Eide. I think those are important standards that we see as a basis for how to evaluate the election results."

Another concern cited in the report are allegations that government resources, including public media, are being used to aid particular candidates.

Afghanistan's 17 million eligible voters go to the polls on August 20.

Incumbent President Hamid Karzai faces several-dozen challengers, but experts say he might be able to secure at least 50 percent of the votes, thus avoiding a second round of balloting.