Afghans to register for first democratic poll

Business Day

Friday, 14 November 2003

KABUL Afghanistan's long-delayed voter registration is on course to start in two weeks in preparation for elections next year.

"We believe sincerely that the stage is set for a very smooth start of the process on December 1," says Irfan Abdool Rahman, a member of the United Nations team helping Afghanistan prepare for next year's vote.

The electoral unit of the UN mission in Afghanistan hoped initially to start registration on October 15, but funding problems forced a postponement.

Rahman said yesterday that a campaign was under way to make sure that all potential voters Afghans 18 or older knew of their right to take vote in elections next year.

"We want Afghans to start believing in the magic of the ballot box," said Rahman, who also is a senior electoral official in Mauritius.

Afghan women, who traditionally had little say in this conservative Muslim society, should also vote, he said.

"We would be failing in our duty if we did not make an appeal to our Afghan sisters to take part in the process.

"We say to them: We respect your cultures, traditions and values, but we want you to be involved. We want you to form part of this very important and historical process.'"

Afghanistan has moved toward democracy since a US-led coalition ousted the Taliban regime two years ago.

A draft constitution, unveiled on November 3, is due to be debated and ratified by a loya jirga, or grand council, meeting on December 10 in Kabul. Approval would clear the way for a presidential election in June next year followed by a parliamentary election.

Afghans voted this month in local elections to choose representatives to the 500-member loya jirga. But that poll was not based on a formal register of voters.

Nobody knows exactly how many people live in Afghanistan, where wars have left many people as refugees in other countries. The UN estimates it is more than 25-million.

Afghanistan's last national census was in 1979, just before troops from the Soviet Union invaded the country.

Millions of Afghans fled to neighbouring Iran and Pakistan, some during the war against the Soviet occupiers in the 1980s, many others during factional fighting in the mid-1990s or during years of drought. About three million people have flooded back since the Taliban's downfall, but many have not returned to their home regions.

The coalition-backed government of President Hamid Karzai, set up after the Taliban were ousted, wields little power outside the capital, Kabul.

The government's authority in the north is often undermined by powerful local warlords. In the south, Taliban and al-Qaeda insurgents have recently stepped up attacks against the coalition, government loyalists and international relief agencies.


Nov 14 2003 08:50:45:000AM Business Day 1st Edition,3523,1482932-6098-0,00.html