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Afghanistan: UN, National Officials Discuss Dates For Elections

Afghanistan's UN-sponsored election commission reportedly decided today that the country's presidential elections will be during the month of Mizan on the Afghan solar calendar, which lasts from 22 September to 21 October. The decision follows two days of meetings between the commission and the Transitional Administration chaired by Hamid Karzai. There still has been no formal announcement about a date for parliamentary elections. But officials say that the election probably will not be held at the same time as the presidential vote, as originally envisioned.

Prague, 7 July 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Afghanistan's official Baskhtar News Agency reported that the UN-sponsored Afghan election commission decided today to go ahead with a presidential election in September or October following two days of talks with members of the Afghan government. But the state-run news agency said the commission is still waiting to make an official announcement about parliamentary elections. The report follows what was described as "final discussions" at the presidential palace in Kabul between commission members and Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai's cabinet.

Government spokesman Jawed Ludin said the commission told Karzai's cabinet yesterday that a presidential election is still possible in late September or in October. But Ludin admitted that concerns about logistics, unruly warlords, and ongoing Taliban violence are likely to push back the more difficult ballot for a 249-seat parliament until next year.

"Naturally, the United Nations and the election commission assure us that it is possible for the presidential elections to be held according to the original plans. We are satisfied with this. About the parliamentary elections, we have heard some opinions and some concerns," Ludin said.
Some UN officials have privately expressed concerns that a parliamentary vote before militia factions are disarmed could consolidate the power of anti-Taliban warlords who work with U.S. troops and control large areas.

Afghan Agriculture Minister Hussain Anwari says the election commission wants another six months to prepare for the parliamentary vote. On the other hand, he said, Karzai's government wants both the presidential and parliamentary polls to be completed before November. The presidential vote originally was expected in June but was postponed until September to give more time to register voters and disarm the militia forces of regional warlords. Afghan officials now say the presidential vote will be during the Afghan month of Mizan, which is from 22 September through 21 October this year under the solar calendar.

Ludin confirmed that no final deal was reached yesterday, when members of the election commission met with Karzai's cabinet. "The decision about when to conduct the elections is the work of the election commission. A team from the commission attended the meeting of the Afghan cabinet [on 6 July] and they discussed this issue. They will present a report to the cabinet. After a discussion [with the cabinet], they will decide on the date of elections," Ludin said.

Karzai is widely expected to defeat about six challengers in the presidential ballot. The Afghan Constitution calls for all attempts to be made to conduct the presidential and parliamentary vote simultaneously. But the election commission says it still lacks census data to calculate the distribution of seats in the future legislature. Laws on campaign finance and media access for some 2,000 anticipated parliamentary candidates also are still being worked out.

Some UN officials also have privately expressed concerns that a parliamentary vote before militia factions are disarmed could consolidate the power of anti-Taliban warlords who work with U.S. combat troops and control large patches of territory across the country.

According to the latest UN figures, more than half of Afghanistan's eligible voters -- about 5.6 million of an estimated 10 million -- are now registered. But UN election workers admit that the success of registration has varied in different geographic regions. Most notably, election-registration teams are still unable to enter parts of Pashtun-dominated southern Afghanistan where small, specialized teams of U.S.-led commandos are battling the remnants of the Taliban.

A series of recent Taliban attacks also has disrupted registration in the south by targeting voter-registration centers, UN election workers, and ordinary Afghans who have registered for the ballots.