Afghanistan Set for Historic Election
Since 1979. Afghanistan has lived with constant war. On Sunday, September 18, 2005, the people of Afghanistan will vote in the first ever democratic parliamentary elections. In some areas the only access to the voting booth is by horse or donkey. And, of course there is the fear of attacks by the Taliban remnants. But, the people are excited about this historic day in Afghanistan, a country rising from the ashes of war.
A stairway covered with campaign flyers in Kabul, Afghanistan. (Afghan Lord)
Today is the last day of campaigning and the last chance candidates have of wooing voters. Seventy per cent of the candidates in the parliamentary and provincial elections are independent, according to one estimate. A quarter of seats in Sunday’s elections are reserved for women.
According to the country’s new constitution, drafted after the fundamentalist Islamic Taleban regime was ousted in 2001, the parliament is meant to balance the president’s power to set national policy.
Its members will review the government’s economic and social development plans, and approve presidential nominees for the Supreme Court. The assembly can also initiate new legislation, which the president can either accept or decline.
But many candidates, most of whom have never worked in government before, are promising voters more than they can possibly deliver.
From new schools to new cars, candidates with little understanding of democracy are guaranteeing immediate results, if they are elected.
A wall in Kabul, Afghanistan, promoting candidates, including women, for parliamentary elections, tomorrow. (Afghan Lord)
Nuristan, a mountainous province almost 200 kilometers (125 miles) from the Afghan capital, is so isolated that its inhabitants were not converted to Islam until almost 1900, and it remains extremely underdeveloped.
“We do not have a hospital,” he said. “Only 20 of our 152 schools have a building.”
Afghanistan’s ministry for rural development and some aid agencies have built a handful of roads, wells and irrigation projects, but the needs remain glaring, with alarming figures for infant and maternal mortality.
Many of the 800,000 to one million inhabitants of Nuristan are enthusiastic about the election, officials say.
“People here await the elections with much impatience,” provincial police chief Abdul Baqi said.
Doctor Khalil, a member of the electoral commission in Parun, Nuristan’s tiny capital, said around 140,000 people or 70 percent of eligible voters had registered.
In areas that are “only accessible by donkey and horse,” it had however been hard to reach some people, he said.
Once the 249-seat parliament is convened, only two seats will be reserved for Nuristan, but local elders still hope the elections will give them a chance to voice their grievances.
Sohaila Alkozai, a candidate in the upcoming parliamentary elections, talks at a meeting with men in Kabul September 7, 2005. Parliamentary and provincial elections will be held on September 18. This is the last step of an international plan meant to restore democracy and stability to Afghanistan after 25 years of conflict, and only four years after U.S.-led forces ousted the Taliban. About 100,000 troops, including 22,000 U.S.-led troops and 10,000 NATO-led peacekeepers, will provide security for up to 12.5 million Afghans to vote. Afghan and U.S. officials have warned that the Taliban might try to sabotage the vote, the next big step in Afghanistan’s difficult path to stability, but would not be able to derail it (Reuters)
Despite the high risk of a Taliban attempt to disrupt the polling, many of Afghanistan’s estimated 12 million registered voters are enthusiastic about the opportunity to cast ballots. The yearning for stability is palpable, with many hoping that Afghanistan’s new political institutions will somehow be able to break the country’s cycle of violence that stretches back to the 1979 Soviet invasion.
Something new to Afghanistan, political posters are seen throughout the city of Kabul. (Afghan Lord)
Army Brigadier General James Champion says forces in Afghanistan haven’t seen insurgents with the ability to mount coordinated attacks across the country.
Champion says Sunday’s parliamentary election is more complex than last year’s presidential balloting, but he also says the country’s more secure.
There are about 5,800 candidates, about 6,000 polling places, and more than 12 million registered voters.
Update: (Sunday Early AM) The elections have begun. The country is looking at a record turnout even with the threats from the Taliban. For recent news on the election I have a new post up HERE.