Afghans will elect a lower house of parliament and councils in all 34 provinces, but a tide of violence this year, in which more than 1000 people have been killed, has raised fears about the vote.
“The security situation is stable but fragile. Things can change very fast,” Chief Electoral Officer for a joint UN Afghan election commission, Peter Erben, said on Thursday.
Four election workers, as well as three candidates, have been killed, but Erben said most of the attacks did not appear to be aimed at the election process.
“We have a lot of people active in the field, over 10,000 active right now,” Erben said in his interview in his office in a pre-fabricated structure in the election commission’s dusty compound on the outskirts of Kabul.
“When you have that level of exposure all over Afghanistan, it is unavoidable that some of our staff members will get in harms way, one way or the other.”
“In a post-conflict election it is quite normal that there are security issues which need to be dealt with”
Erben, a Dane who has worked on elections in Bosnia, Kosovo, East Timor and Iraq, said the security situation was similar to that in the run-up to a presidential election in October last year, won by the US backed Hamid Karzai.
The Taliban, fighting an insurgency since being forced from power in a 2001 US-led invasion after the September 11 attacks, threatened to disrupt the presidential election, but it was by and large peaceful and millions of enthusiastic Afghans cast ballots.
A Taliban spokesman said this week the guerrillas would not attack polling stations on voting day because of the risk to civilians, but he vowed their insurgency against the government and US-led foreign forces would go on.
US, Nato presence
About 30,000 US-led and Nato troops are in Afghanistan trying to defeat the Taliban and ensure a peaceful vote. Afghan and US officials say the vote will not be disrupted.
“I’m confident that the vote can be held. In a post-conflict election it is quite normal that there are security issues which need to be dealt with,” Erben said.
Nearly 6000 candidates are standing for the 249-seat lower house of parliament, known as the Wolesi Jirga (House of the People), and for the provincial councils.
Campaigning has been low-key so far. Election posters have been plastered up across the country and poster-bedecked candidates’ vehicles can occasionally be seen inching through Kabul’s clogged streets.
The voting system in use will be
The voting system being used is the single non-transferable vote which means candidates stand as individuals, not on a party ticket, and voters get one vote in multi-representative
Critics say the system can produce an unrepresentative result. The International Crisis Group think-tank calls it a lottery.
Erben said the system could produce slightly disproportional and surprising results but it had been chosen by the government and was acceptable to the United Nations.
Another consequence of the system is that all candidates in a constituency, in this case Afghanistan’s provinces, are listed on the ballot, which in Kabul will mean a seven-page booklet with 400 names.
The risk of confusion and delays is high. “I am very worried about it, It is one of our main concerns,” Erben said.
“I believe we will have a significant issue of congestion, long queues and problems as a result of that on election day.”
Despite the security and other worries, Erben said Afghans were keen. “Afghans, broadly, really want this election to take place … the popular demand for the election is absolutely clear”