After a series of delays, Afghanistan has announced October 9 as the date for its first presidential election following two decades of war and authoritarian rule. A parliamentary election is set to follow next spring. But, questions of security and fairness are dogging the coming vote.
At least a dozen prospective candidates are expected to sign up to place their names on the ballot, following the Afghan election commission's announcement of a date Friday.
But many are voicing concerns about whether Afghanistan can hold a safe and free vote.
Afghanistan currently suffers from an insurgency by remnants of the former Taleban regime, as well as factional fighting among rival pro-government militias.
Interior Minister Ali Jalali says domestic and foreign military and police are ready to provide for a safe election.
"During the elections, the police forces, the Afghan National Army, the Afghan militia forces, coalition forces and NATO are committed to provide security," he said.
Both the presidential and parliamentary elections were originally scheduled for last month, but were postponed due to the security problem.
But a senior Afghan analyst for the Brussels-based International Crisis Group, Vikram Parekh, says, regardless of security, many of the prospective candidates have concerns over how fair the election will be.
He says some are worried that local Afghan police and militias, who will likely provide the bulk of the election security, may try to intimidate voters into choosing candidates they favor.
"In that context, its really hard to see how one can convince Afghans that the elections themselves are going to be free and fair," he said.
He says that others object to the likely candidacy of the current transitional president, Hamid Karzai, who has announced plans to run.
"Many of them, who are running in opposition to Karzai, ? are extremely dismayed by having a candidate who is also president, who has the authority to name the members of the election commission," Mr. Parekh said.
Mr. Karzai, who has promised not to use his office to unfair advantage in the race, is reportedly the favorite to win, given his fame and his broad support among Afghanistan's many ethnic groups.
But Mr. Parekh says regional candidates, especially those with a large ethnic base, may take significant segments of the vote, forcing a runoff, if no one wins a simple majority.