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Afghanistan kicks off registration for September elections

Afghanistan began registering candidates for parliamentary elections on Tuesday, amid fears that corruption will continue to be a key feature of the war-torn country's attempts to embrace democracy.

world Updated: Apr 20, 2010 20:23 IST

Afghanistan began registering candidates for parliamentary elections on Tuesday, amid fears that corruption will continue to be a key feature of the war-torn country's attempts to embrace democracy.

The elections are set for September 18, after they were delayed from May.

"Today is the first day for the registration of the candidates," Zakria Barakzai, a senior official at the Independent Election Commission (IEC), said.

President Hamid Karzai last week appointed a new head to the IEC, under pressure from his international backers and domestic political groups, after last year's fraud-tainted presidential ballot, which saw him re-elected.

A UN-backed watchdog, the Electoral Complaints Commission, ruled against more than one-third of the votes cast for Karzai, prompting criticism of election organisers, including accusations of involvement in the rigging.

"I assure the people of Afghanistan that the IEC will be working day and night to ensure free, fair and just elections," said Barakzai, the acting chief electoral officer.

Western backers of Karzai's government, who will be bankrolling the elections, have said they do not expect a fraud-free poll and have been at pains to manage expectations.

"In order to be genuine to our taxpayers and European citizens we must recognise that we should not expect British or French style elections any time soon in Afghanistan," said one Western envoy.

"It's going to be a long educational process and I would view our support and engagement with the Afghan authorities for the September 18 elections as part of the longer educational process on participatory democracy in Afghanistan," he said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

"It is also important they are not used just for the benefit of one person," he added. Karzai has attacked the international community in recent outbursts, alleging that foreign powers orchestrated the widespread fraud in the poll last August, Afghanistan's second presidential election.

The United States notably called the comments "troubling" but all sides have since adopted a united front, seen as vital amid a major military and civilian push to end the nearly nine-year Taliban insurgency.

Barakzai told AFP in an interview earlier this week that the parliamentary elections - the second since the 2001 fall of the Taliban - would not be totally free and fair, notably because of the ongoing Taliban-led insurgency.

Military planners have said that they wish to clear Kandahar province and its capital of Taliban insurgents ahead of the elections, in order to minimise disruption.

The Taliban boycotted the presidential polls and carried out a large number of attacks across the country in an effort to disrupt the ballot. Dozens of people including election workers were killed.

If all goes to plan, the September poll will be the second parliamentary vote since the Taliban was overthrown.

The first legislature, elected in 2005, is dominated by warlords, powerful commanders of the anti-Soviet resistance of the 1980s, or their cronies.

Dozens of people turned up to register on Tuesday, IEC spokesman Noor Ahmad Noor told AFP, providing no further details.

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