Sep 18, 2010

Afghanistan holds parliamentary election today amid militant threat, fear of forgery & rigging

People in Afghanistan are voting in crucial parliamentary elections amid threats from the Taliban, who have vowed to disrupt the vote. Besides, observers expressed apprehension of forgery & rigging in the election which to be cause for instability in near future in the war ravaged South Asian country.  

The Taliban has already claimed responsibility for kidnapping two parliamentary candidates, 18 poll officials and campaign workers in the run-up to the elections.

Hours before the polls opened, central Kabul was hit by a rocket attack. No casualties have been reported.

More than 2,500 candidates are vying for 249 seats in the lower house of parliament, or Wolesi Jirga.

The poll is seen as a test of credibility for President Hamid Karzai, after fraud marred elections last year.

On Friday US special envoy to Afghanistan Richard Holbrooke said the vote was likely to be flawed, but it was significant that it was taking place at all.

"We have had experience in our country with flawed elections, and not in the middle of a war. We are not looking for perfection here," Mr Holbrooke said.

Washington is watching Saturday's poll closely, as US President Barack Obama prepares a strategy review in December that is expected to consider the scale of plans to start withdrawing American troops from next year.

Afghan soldiers and police are guarding the polls, backed up by nearly 150,000 foreign troops.

Nearly 6,000 polling stations in 34 provinces were due to have opened at 0700 local time (0230 GMT) and will close at 1600 local time (1130 GMT). But about 1,000 will not open because of security fears.
The Taliban have warned voters to boycott the poll and "stick to jihad".

In what correspondents say is a thinly veiled threat, insurgents said in a statement they had "chalked out certain measures... to frustrate this American process and will implement them on the day when the illegitimate process of elections is conducted".

But some voters were out early despite the threats.

Government worker Mohammad Husman, 50, was at the front of the queue at a polling station in a school in Kabul.

"I came here because I want prosperity for Afghanistan, [and] stability for Afghanistan," he said.

"I am worried about security and fraud and I hope my vote goes to the person I picked to vote for," he added.

The rocket fired in Kabul early on Saturday landed outside Afghanistan's state-owned TV station, police said.

There were also reports of rocket attacks in the eastern city of Jalalabad in Nangarhar province. There is no word on casualties.

Ahead of the vote, President Karzai urged Afghans to cast their ballots, despite threats from the Taliban.

There are more than 10 million registered voters, but the UN says a turnout of five to seven million would be a success, given the difficulty of holding a poll in the middle of a war.
'Not perfect' poll

Another major concern for election officials and international observers is that the polls will not be free or fair.

Mr Karzai on Friday admitted that "under the circumstances we must expect that there will be irregularities, there will be problems and there will be allegations as well".

On Tuesday, officials from Afghanistan's Independent Election Commission (IEC) said 3,000 forged voter registration cards had been confiscated in the central province on Ghazni.

However, IEC officials stressed that they had taken a number of measures - including the usage of an indelible ink to avoid double voting - to prevent fraud.

Preliminary results are to be announced on 22 September, with the final results due on 31 October.

The outcome is not expected to change the make-up of the government although President Karzai's credibility may be damaged if his preferred candidates are defeated, or if vote-rigging is suspected.

Members of the Wolesi Jirga sit for a five-year term.

Few candidates have declared party affiliations. Correspondents say political parties have little influence in Afghan politics, and ethnicity continues to be the main factor influencing alliances.

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