KABUL • At least 10 election candidates have been killed, thousands of polling centres closed, and many voters are likely to stay home due to the threat of militant attacks.
Democracy in Afghanistan can be brutal and chaotic. Almost nine million people have registered to vote in tomorrow's parliamentary election, which is more than three years late and only the third since the fall of the Taleban in 2001.
But shambolic preparations, expectations of industrial-scale fraud, and escalating poll-related violence threaten to derail the election, which the international community is advising and largely funding. "We're trying to make a terrible situation slightly less bad," a Western diplomat told Agence France-Presse (AFP), reflecting a sharp drop in expectations for a credible result, even by Afghan standards.
Alarm is growing as the beleaguered Independent Election Commission (IEC), which has been skewered for its poor handling of the process, struggles to distribute voting materials to more than 5,000 polling centres before they open at 7am tomorrow.
They are supposed to include biometric voter verification devices that Afghan political leaders and officials only agreed to use a few weeks ago and have been made mandatory, despite being untested and not required by law.
Votes cast without the controversial machines will not be counted, IEC spokesman Sayed Hafizullah Hashimi told AFP, even though polling centre workers have received little or no training in how to use them. Observers are concerned the results could be thrown into turmoil if the devices are broken, lost or destroyed. There are also fears the data could be manipulated before preliminary results are released on Nov 10.
More than 2,500 candidates are competing for 249 seats in the Lower House. Campaigning has been marred by violence. In one attack, candidate Abdul Jabar Qahraman was blown up on Wednesday by a bomb placed under his sofa in the province of Helmand.
The Taleban has warned candidates to withdraw from the ballot, which it has vowed to attack. Yesterday, it issued a fresh boycott call, denouncing the vote as a foreign-imposed process that went against Islam and Afghan culture.
The hardline group has also claimed responsibility for an attack yesterday which killed one of the country's most powerful security officials. General Abdul Razeq was killed when a bodyguard opened fire following a meeting in the governor's compound in the southern province of Kandahar.
General Scott Miller, top US commander in Afghanistan who had been at the meeting with Gen Razeq moments earlier, was uninjured but the local commander of the NDS intelligence service was killed and the provincial governor was severely wounded.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS