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Afghanistan: Registration Begins For Parliamentary Elections

By Golnaz Esfandiari

Registration began on 30 April for those seeking to run in Afghanistan's local and parliamentary elections scheduled for 18 September. Election officials have announced that those wishing to run have until 19 May to register. Between 5,000 and 10,000 candidates are expected to run in the elections.

Prague, 2 May 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Election officials have called on all Afghans -- men and women -- who wish to run in the elections to submit their candidacies in the next three weeks. A final list will be approved and issued on 12 July.

Bismillah Bissmil, the chairman of the Joint Electoral Management Body (JEMB) has called the upcoming elections a major turning point in Afghanistan's path toward democracy and lasting stability.

"With these elections," Bissmil said in a statement, "we shall finally have a democratic, representative government and end the rule of the gun."

All Afghans who are 25 years old or over and obtain the signatures of 300 supporters can run for the lower house of parliament, the Wolesi Jirga. Candidates for provincial councils must be 18 years old or over and must gather 200 signatures.

Would-be candidates must pledge to abide by a code of conduct and officially declare that they do not belong to or have any ties to militias or unofficial paramilitary groups. People who have been officially accused or convicted of crimes are not eligible to run as candidates. Public officials and military personnel must resign their positions if they intend to run for office.

The JEMB's senior media relations officer, Bronwyn Curran, tells RFE/RL that interest in the elections has been high since day one. She said: "We've had reports coming in from each of our provincial offices spread across all 34 provinces of Afghanistan that hundreds of people have been coming in to collect candidate-nomination kits which they take away with the intention to come back when they fill it in and go through the nominations process."

So far more than 65 people, including 15 women, have applied to run as candidates for parliament. Out of the 249 seats in the Wolesi Jirga, 70 seats are allocated for women. The United Nations and the Afghan Ministry of Women's Affairs have called on political parties to promote and support female candidates.

The vote for the lower house of parliament was due to take place at the same time as the presidential election. However, the parliamentary polls were postponed several times due to security concerns and technical problems. Afghanistan's first direct presidential election was held successfully in October, despite threats by the Taliban to disrupt the vote and the killing of more than 10 electoral workers.

In recent weeks, several attacks by Taliban supporters and insurgents have been reported in southern Afghanistan. In the most recent violence, a remote-controlled mine today killed at least two policemen and wounded four others in southern Afghanistan's Kandahar Province, a former Taliban stronghold.

JEMB media officer Curran says that, so far, there have been no direct threats to disrupt the upcoming elections.

"We are not aware of any recent direct threats against the elections," she said. "These elections are building on presidential elections, so we prepared to anticipate that there might be some kind of threat or some unrest targeted at these elections by small antigovernment groups."

More than 8,000 NATO-led forces are stationed in Kabul, Herat, and some northern areas. NATO is expected to increase the number of its troops for the September polls.

A campaign to raise voters' awareness about the vote have been launched by the Afghan government and NGOs in different provinces.

Fatima, a resident in the Behzoud district of Afghanistan's Wardak Province, tells Radio Free Afghanistan that high illiteracy rates mean many people -- especially women -- have very little knowledge about the parliament.

"They don’t understand the meaning of Wolesi Jirga -- at least they should know the work of the Wolesi Jirga," Fatima said. "It has these responsibilities, this is its goal, but right now many of our people do not even understand the meaning of the term [Wolesi Jirga]. So how can we come and discuss elections?"

Many observers believe that the elections for parliament -- as well as those for provincial councils -- will be more complicated and more difficult to police than the presidential elections, as they could inflame local rivalries. It is expected that some local warlords will pressure voters to vote for them.

Nearly 70 political parties have registered to run in the elections. Many of them are run by former members of the mujahedin who fought the Soviets as well as the Taliban.

The JEMB has asked donor countries for $148 million to fund the elections.

Copyright (c) 2005. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org

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