Taliban and Daesh have carried out several deadly attacks in the run-up to Afghanistan's long-delayed vote, which will only be the third parliamentary elections to be held in the country after the US invasion in 2001.

Election posters of parliamentary candidates are seen on a road during the first day of the election campaign in Kabul, Afghanistan, September 28, 2018.
Election posters of parliamentary candidates are seen on a road during the first day of the election campaign in Kabul, Afghanistan, September 28, 2018. (Reuters)

Afghans vote for a new parliament on October 20 amid electioneering activities that have been hampered by chaotic preparations, allegations of fraud and ever-present fears of violence.

Around 8.9 million voters have registered themselves to cast ballots at 21,011 polling stations.

The registered voters include more than 3 million women, 5.681 million men, 168,015 kuchis and 583 Sikhs and Hindus, according to the Independent Election Commission of Afghanistan.

Aziz Ibrahimi, the Afghan election commission spokesman, says 2,565 candidates are battling for the 249 seats in the chamber.

Ibrahimi says there're also 417 women among the candidates.

There are 26 political parties registered to contest the elections who have nominated 205 candidates (eight percent of total candidates) to run for the election. The remaining candidates are independent.

The major political parties include the Jombesh e Melli ye Islami led by Abdul Rashid Dostum an ethnic Uzbek former warlord, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s Hezb e Islami and Haji Muhammad Mohaqqeq’s Hezb e Wahdat e Islami ye Mardom.

The establishment of party-based factions in the parliament is not prevalent in Afghanistan and hasn't been in practice since 2005. Many of the independently contesting candidates belong to political parties. 

The election comes amid a vicious campaign by the Taliban and Daesh, which stage near-daily attacks across the country.

It is also unclear if voting will take place in areas held by the Taliban.

With Taliban insurgents controlling about one-third of the country, thousands being killed in the fighting and doubts about the success of the US strategy to force the rebels to accept peace talks by stepping up air strikes, the credibility of the Western-backed government is at stake.

The Taliban have warned people not to vote and dozens of people have been killed in militant attacks on voter registration centers.

Despite the recent deadly attacks, the capital Kabul as well as other cities and towns have been decorated with colourful posters of candidates plastered on billboards and walls.

The long-delayed vote will be the third parliamentary elections to be held in the country after the US invasion in 2001.

The last parliamentary elections were held in September 2010 and were scheduled to be held in June 2015 after the expiry of the five-year tenure.

After the hotly contested controversial presidential elections held in 2014, parliamentary elections could not be held in 2015 over security concerns and transparency concerns. 

The parliament on June 22, 2015, decided to extend its mandate till the next elections were conducted.

The upcoming elections will be observed by domestic and international observers including EU and UN staffers, candidates’ and political parties’ agents, as well as the media. 

The election campaign period, that began on September 28, ends on October 17 and will be followed by two days of silence (October 18 and October 19) before polls take place on October 20.

In the run-up to the upcoming polls, media coverage has been dominated by reports of fraudulent voter registration and accusations of interference by powerful regional and local strongmen.

Instead of debating policy, most energy has been devoted to wrangling over issues like a new biometric voter verification system which political parties have insisted be introduced at the last minute.

Around 22,000 handheld biometric verification devices were sent to Kabul late in September this year, to be distributed out to the provinces, but doubt remained if the $20 million system can be set up by voting day.

Under the country's constitution that follows a presidential system, the parliament or Wolesi Jirga (House of the people) reviews and ratifies laws but has little effective power.

According to a United Nations report from May, “Afghanistan’s legislature is part of the corruption problem and has for the most part avoided trying to be part of the solution.” Thieving parliamentarians are stock joke figures for social media commentators and television comedians. Afghanistan lies near the bottom of Transparency International’s world corruption index.

Thirty five candidates of the 2,500 have been barred from standing by the IEC because of suspected links to armed groups, or involvement in cases of murder, extortion or rape. Many more, who face similar accusations, remain on the list.

Nobody is expecting the election to be free of fraud or violence, but if the vote does not take place before Afghanistan’s harsh winter weather sets in, a nationwide ballot will be impossible until next year.

Persistent rumors in Kabul suggest that if the biometric system cannot be set up in time, a delay may be necessary. Foreign donors fear that if that happens, the credibility of Afghanistan’s fledgling democratic institutions may be fatally undermined.

Source: TRT World