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Afghans To Hold Parliament Vote By Late May

Zekria Barakzai
KABUL (Reuters) -- Afghanistan aims to hold a vote for the lower house of parliament by late May, as laid out in the constitution, a top election official said today, but admitted it faces major fraud, funding, and security concerns.

After corruption, violence and voter intimidation marred last August's presidential poll, there have been worries that holding another election before more safeguards can be put in place will mean a repeat of those problems.

But Zekria Barakzai, deputy head of the government-appointed Independent Election Commission (IEC) of Afghanistan, said the president, chief justice, and speakers of both houses of parliament had met and agreed that the elections should go ahead according to the schedule laid out in Afghanistan's constitution.

"The only problem we have right now is how it will be funded. We are talking to the Finance Ministry to see if it can be funded from the Afghan budget," Barakzai told Reuters.

He said the IEC would announce a date for the parliament and district-council elections by January 3.

A UN-backed probe found that a third of President Hamid Karzai's votes in this year's August 20 presidential poll were fake, but there will not be time for a full revamp of voter lists now.

"There will be an update. We do know there were flaws in the voter-registration process, but time constraints would not allow us to fundamentally resolve this problem," he told Reuters.

Candidates would be key to combating fraud by sending their own observers to all polling stations, Barakzai said.

"Much of the election is in the hands of candidates, who can send their own representatives to election outposts."

Security is another concern, with violence at the worst levels since the ouster of the Taliban by U.S.-backed Afghan forces in late 2001.

But Barakzai said there was no guarantee delaying the election -- as some critics have suggested -- would improve the situation.

"No one can guarantee that if it is postponed security will be any better," he said.