UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
AFGHANISTAN: Election campaigning ends, voter education continues
KABUL, 15 Sep 2005 (IRIN) - With Afghanistan's historic parliamentary elections just three days away, the campaign deadline for some 5,800 contesting candidates for Sunday's polls is set to end on Friday morning, according to an official from Afghanistan's Joint Electoral Management Body (JEMB).
"Today is the last day of the candidates' campaigning that started on 17 August. The remaining two days are to prepare for election day," Besmillah Besmil, chairman of the joint UN-Afghan electoral body, said in Afghan capital, Kabul, on Thursday.
About 12.4 million Afghans are eligible to vote in Sunday's two simultaneous elections for the 249-seat Wolesi Jirga (lower house of parliament), contested by over 2,700 candidates, and in 34 separate provincial council elections contested by over 3,000 hopefuls.
Despite the killing of six candidates and some incidents of intimidation since the electoral process began this year, the Afghan electoral body expressed satisfaction over the way political activities had been conducted during the campaign.
Women make up some 12 percent of total Wolesi Jirga candidates and account for 8.1 percent of provincial council candidates. With this high rate of female representation, Afghanistan would rank 20th in the world for female parliamentary representation, said a JEMB press release, quoting a report by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
Though campaigning will end 48 hours before the actual election, efforts to promote voter education will continue until election day.
"Over 1,800 civic educators, 35 percent of them women, were employed for the voter education campaign for the 2005 elections launched this year in April," Peter Erben, Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) at the JEMB told.
Alongside traditional methods, several non-traditional means were also adopted to familiarise voters with election and voting procedures.
"Apart from holding face-to-face information sessions across Afghanistan, particularly in rural areas, a travelling theatre was also used to illustrate voting and election procedures," Erben said. In addition, a free telephone line was also made available to answer queries by voters on the phone, he added.
Meanwhile, the JEMB chairman urged all voters, particularly women, to participate in the polls. "We appreciate the contribution of Afghans made so far in the electoral process, however, we need more of their cooperation in coming days," Besmil remarked.
His call coincided with a report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) saying the lead up to the polls had been undermined by insurgent attacks and intimidation by warlords.
While technical preparations for the elections had been largely successful and voting would likely take place without serious disruption, HRW warned that insurgent forces could derail voting in some areas.
The report "Afghanistan on the Eve of Parliamentary and Provincial Elections" documents an underlying climate of fear among many voters and candidates, especially in remote, rural areas - an atmosphere that had negatively affected the political environment in the lead-up to the elections.
Additionally, many Afghans were deeply concerned that alleged war criminals and human rights abusers were candidates and others retained significant power behind the scenes as party or faction leaders.
"The Afghan people are clearly eager to participate in elections that will help them move away from the rule of the gun," Sam Zarifi, deputy director of the watchdog group's Asia division, said. "But they are disappointed that the government and its international partners haven't done more to prevent warlords and rights abusers from dominating Afghanistan's political space."
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