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Afghanistan: Parliamentary Candidates Continue Campaigns Despite Violence

Afghan women registering to vote (file photo) Political violence continues in Afghanistan just a week before parliamentary elections. The U.S. military says insurgents may try to undermine the vote with attacks during the next week. Despite the violence, most candidates continue to campaign ahead of the 18 September vote.

Kabul, 11 September 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Cars covered with poster-size photographs of Afghan parliamentary candidates circle the streets of Kabul. Loudspeakers mounted on the roofs of the cars blare patriotic songs and messages from parliamentary hopefuls.

It is Afghanistan's first parliamentary election in more than 30 years. Candidates are continuing their campaigns undaunted by violence ahead of the vote.

Yesterday, gunmen opened fire on Afghan Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak's convoy after he and other ministers were dropped off at Kabul International Airport.

Wardak was traveling to the Panjsher Valley north of Kabul to attend a memorial ceremony marking the fourth anniversary of the assassination of a modern Afghan hero -- anti-Soviet and anti-Taliban militia commander Ahmad Shah Mas'ud.

Also yesterday, a helicopter carrying the Afghan National Army's chief of staff and three government ministers crashed and exploded while taking off from Mas'ud's memorial service. All aboard escaped with minor injuries.

While government officials say the two incidents were not insurgency-related, their timing has contributed to uneasy feelings among Afghan voters.

The U.S. military expects Islamic militants to launch attacks in Afghanistan's urban areas during the next week. U.S.-led coalition forces are taking steps to guard against attacks on voters at the polling stations on 18 September.

As part of security efforts ahead of the vote, U.S. and Afghan soldiers reportedly killed 30 suspected militants yesterday in southern Afghanistan.

The Taliban have vowed to disrupt the elections, and have stepped up attacks in recent months.

More than 1,200 people have been killed in violence since the start of spring in Afghanistan. Most were suspected militants killed by U.S. and Afghan troops. But the dead also include more than 50 U.S. troops, Afghan civilians, aid workers, political campaigners, and election officials.

In the past two months, at least six parliamentary candidates were killed in violence in the country. And there have been other failed attacks against candidates.
"The simplest and most important message we try to get through to [Afghan voters] is that with these elections [they] are sending somebody from [their] area to the center [of government]." - UN spokeswoman

Sohaila Alekozai is a candidate from Kabul who hopes to win one of the seats reserved for women on the 249-seat Wolesi Jirga (People's Council), the lower chamber of the National Assembly. She says the threat of violence won't stop her from campaigning.

"No threats and no disturbance will stop me from going out on my campaign," she told RFE/RL. "I will go out and introduce myself to my people and it will be up to them to decide who they are going to vote for."

Mohammad Isaq, an independent candidate for the Wolesi Jirga from Kapisa Province, told RFE/RL that the 18 September vote is an opportunity for Afghans to send a message to those who have made life difficult during the past three decades.

"Those who are responsible for choking us, now is the time to hold them accountable. In order for [Afghanistan] to progress any further, we must grab these people by the neck and start demanding our rights. We must tell them: 'We trusted you. Look what you've done to us.' If we don't do this now, our problems will be repeated again and again. [They must learn that] trust is something which must be earned," Isaq said.

"The simplest and most important message we try to get through to [Afghan voters] is that with these elections [they] are sending somebody from [their] area to the center [of government]," Bronwyn Curran, a spokeswoman for the UN-Afghan Joint Electoral Management Body, told RFE/RL. "That is the main difference from the presidential election -- that someone from [their] village or district will be representing [the] people's interests in the big center -- in the big city."

Around 12 million voters are expected to cast ballots during the historic elections. They will be selecting candidates for the lower house of the national legislature and for provincial councils across the country.

Voters should choose 249 representatives to fill the Wolesi Jirga, marking the country's first national legislative body under its new constitution. Voters will also choose between nine and 29 members to fill the provincial councils.

For more on the Afghan elections, see RFE/RL and Radio Free Afghanistan's "Afghanistan Votes" webpage.