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Afghan election season off to a messy start

PTI | Last Updated: Wednesday, November 20, 2013 - 14:13

Kabul: With Afghanistan`s next presidential election just five months away, authorities say they are facing a possible repeat of the abuses that have discredited the country`s efforts to build a democracy.

They say they have no idea how many voters are really on the rolls because multiple registrations have resulted in nearly twice as many registered voters as eligible ones, said Noor Mohammed Noor, spokesman for the Independent Election Commission.

The registration cards have no expiry date, there is no database to track them, and they are good for any election, he said.

Nader Nadery, head of the nonpartisan Free and Fair Election Foundation of Afghanistan, said it is too early to charge fraud, but "there is a lot of smoke out there . . . The level of suspicion is high."

With foreign troops set to withdraw from Afghanistan at the end of next year, a credible April 6 election would do much to validate the West`s efforts over 12 years to foster democracy in the country.

The 2009 election, which gave President Hamid Karzai a second term, was severely marred by allegations of fraud. Suspicions ran from ballot-box-stuffing and bogus registration cards to men from deeply conservative areas turning up at polling stations with handfuls of registration cards to vote on behalf of female relatives, arguing that custom forbade the women to appear in public.

Constitutionally limited to two terms, Karzai is not in the running. But Noor said he worries the glut of registration cards could taint the April 6 poll, while Andrew Wilder of the US Institute of Peace, a federally funded conflict-resolution body, said ballot-stuffing was an even bigger threat.

Holding an election in a country still reeling from 30 years of conflict and struggling to strengthen weak and often corrupt institutions is a herculean task, say experts and candidates.

Taliban threats cast a further damper.

"Poor security in parts of the country will make it difficult and dangerous for candidates to campaign, and for voters to go to the polls and vote on election day," said Wilder. "Poor security, as we saw in the 2009 elections, also makes it difficult for observers and party agents to monitor elections, and provides a great opportunity for ballot-box-stuffing."

First Published: Wednesday, November 20, 2013 - 12:06

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