An international delegation of political and legal experts has ended a fact-finding mission to Afghanistan that evaluated the preparations for presidential elections due October 9. They list logistical and security concerns as some of the potential pitfalls. They also have praise for the enthusiasm of Afghans who have registered to vote.
The U.N.'s envoy to Afghanistan has told the Security Council the high turnout for voter registration underlines the importance Afghans put on the October presidential vote. More than 90 percent of eligible voters have registered.
A report released by an international delegation that has recently assessed preparations for the ballot agrees with the UN assessment but offers some words of caution.
Legal expert Mark Braden is a member of the delegation that issued the report on the upcoming election.
"It's an extremely complicated process in a country doing it for the first time and you add in the fact that you have a population with a low literacy rate and of course the ever-present security problems. So that's a very difficult environment to be working in," explained Mr. Braden.
Mr. Braden also points to lack of resources to carry off the elections and the vote count. Taking two to three weeks for a vote count, he says, is not an option.
The delegation has recommended an urgent infusion of funds and expertise to help prepare election monitors and ballot counters.
Delegation members are optimistic the election will take place, but Mr. Braden cautions it will not be free from problems and mishaps.
"There are great challenges," he added. "It will undoubtedly have many problems. It will not look like a Swiss election. That's not even getting into security issues."
Paula Newberg is an adviser to the United Nations Foundation and a long-time monitor of Afghanistan. She says the credibility of the election also depends on how voters and the international community respond to the results.
"How is the international community going to deal with Afghanistan if it determines independently of voter turnout that this election is neither free nor fair," said Ms. Newberg. "There has been very little discussion as to what standards should apply in judging this election and what effect that will have on the role of the international community."
The report by the delegation also examines problems that could occur during the period between the presidential elections in October and parliamentary elections next year. The political analysts raise concerns about the potential for power abuse during the period because the newly elected president will rule without the checks of an elected legislature
Ken Wollack is president of the National Democratic Institute that sponsored the fact-finding mission by the delegation. He sees the presidential vote, Afghanistan's first direct ballot, as a crucial model for Afghanistan's political future.
"Unless a number of central processes affecting Afghanistan's first direct presidential election and the planned 2005 parliamentary, district and council elections demonstrate to the Afghan people that the country is progressing on a democratic course, public confidence in elections and the mandate provided by them will be subverted," he said.
The delegation says much remains to be done between now and the October election. It stresses the need for expanding voter education, opening the process to international observers and increasing security at the polls.