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|Afghan security forces are on high alert as election officials said preparations for the vote were complete [AFP]|
Taliban fighters are believed to have abducted more than 20 people linked to Afghanistan’s parliamentary elections, due to be held on Saturday amid tight security.
At least two candidates are among the missing, who also include election officials and campaign workers, officials said. One candidate was snatched in the eastern province of Laghman, while another has been missing for three days in western Herat province, his family have said.
Afghans are due to go to the polls on Saturday to elect 249 parliamentarians in an election opposed by the Taliban and other insurgent groups in the country. The Taliban warned on Thursday that polling centres, election workers and security forces would be targeted, and said that voters who tried to cast ballots “would get hurt”.
“There certainly has been intimidation of a whole variety of people who are engaged in the political process,” Andy Campbell, country director of the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs – one of the organisations monitoring the Afghan elections – told Al Jazeera.
“It is not just those who are seeking to be candidates …, also people from the independent election commission have had pressure placed upon them not to be engaged in the process in any way, shape or form.”
The Taliban have claimed responsibility for the kidnapping of at least one of the candidates, Abdul Rahman Hayat, and are suspected to be behind the disappearance of 18 election officials and campaign workers in the north-western Bagdhis province. Officials believe they have been taken to a Taliban stronghold in the province.
Nato troops have pledged to support Afghan security forces to ensure the polls take place in as normal fashion as possible, and have already taken action against kidnappers, rescuing three kidnapped Afghans in Ghazni province.
The men were seized by the Taliban on Thursday. One of the hostages was told by his captors that he would be killed on Friday, and his body would be left in front of a local polling station, the statement said.
Despite the threats, Hamid Karzai, the president, on Friday called on all Afghans, including members of the Taliban, to vote in Saturday’s election.
“We hope that our people in every corner of our country, in every city of our country and every province will go to polling stations and vote for their favourite candidate and through the vote lead our country to further stability,” he said.
But a high turn-out is unlikely, with many Afghans mistrustful of politicians after last year’s presidential elections were marred by serious allegations of fraud.
“Democracy, what’s that?” said Darya Khan, a 40-year-old driver. “I’m not going to vote, the people who get elected are just in it for themselves. They are not working to benefit the country, they are not thinking about the poor.”
Others were more hopeful.”I’m happy and ready to take part in tomorrow’s election, to choose our own future,” Abdul Qahir, a 31-year-old construction company owner, said after being searched at a checkpoint. “It’s important to vote. We need to elect good people, not warlords.”
Staffan de Mistura, the United Nations’ top diplomat in Afghanistan, has said a turnout of between 5 million and 7 million out of Afghanistan’s roughly 11.4 million registered voters would be considered a success.
Tens of thousands of Afghan security forces were on high alert on Friday as election officials in Kabul, the Afghan capital, said preparations for the vote were complete. Police set up extra checkpoints across the city to scan for suicide bombers.
With more that 2,500 candidates are standing for election to the 249 seats in the Wolesi Jirga, Afghanistan’s lower house of parliament, competition between candidates is fierce and poll-rigging has already emerged as a very real possibility.
Al Jazeera has uncovered “industrial-scale” production of fake voter registration cards in a number of provinces across the country, prompting fears of a repeat of the mass fraud and vote-rigging that plagued last year’s presidential polls.
“We seem to have serious problems already before the polls have even opened,” Al Jazeera’s James Bays reported from Kabul.
“A tape has just arrived at our [Kabul] office from one of our teams down south, and they filmed hundreds more of these [fake] registration cards. This is not isolated to one or two incidents. It seems that these fake cards are being produced at an almost industrial scale.”