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Afghanistan Prepares for Parliamentary Elections

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

The United States and Australia are sending hundreds more troops to Afghanistan in the run-up to September's parliamentary elections. In recent months, the Taliban and other militants have stepped up their attacks. There are fears they will attempt to disrupt the voting. NPR's Philip Reeves reports from Kabul. The elections are seen as one of the last steps towards the creation of a permanent democratic government in Afghanistan.

PHILIP REEVES reporting:

Defying heat and dust, Afghan laborers work away on a building which will house their nation's Parliament.

(Soundbite of construction efforts)

REEVES: Kabul stretches around them. A capital blighted by invasion, occupation and civil war is rising from the rubble. Election day is less than 10 weeks away. Preparations are gathering pace.

(Soundbite of prayer)

Unidentified Man: (Chanting in foreign language)

REEVES: Prayers mark the opening of a press conference to announce how many candidates have made it through a vetting process.

(Soundbite of prayer)

Unidentified Man: (Chanting in foreign language)

REEVES: The conference is given by Afghanistan's Electoral Complaints Commission, the ECC. Hundreds of people running for election are suspected of ties to Afghanistan's illegal militias or of having committed severe human rights abuses. ECC Chairman Grant Kippen, a Canadian, says the commission received more than 1,100 challenges against candidates. Many made harrowing reading.

Mr. GRANT KIPPEN (Chairman, Electoral Complaints Commission): It was an incredibly moving experience for our staff to read very personal accounts of hardships and suffering experienced by citizens over the past 20-odd years.

REEVES: Yet, Kippen announces just 17 candidates have been disqualified; 11 for having links with the militias. He acknowledges people expected the commission to exclude more, but says it was bound by election rules. Kippen says the EEC provisionally excluded more than 200 candidates, but almost all have now been restored, some after persuading the authorities they've recently disarmed.

Ms. JOANNA NATHAN (International Crisis Group): No, I think we do think this has been done for political expediency.

REEVES: Joanna Nathan represents the International Crisis Group, which is compiling a report on the elections.

Ms. NATHAN: In just a measure of weeks, that 255 people have somehow disarmed themselves or are considered to be disarmed and you get it down to 11 in that time, which just seems incredible--it's obviously not happened in that time.

REEVES: Nathan's not the only critical voice. Miagul Waseq heads the People's Welfare Party, one of a small group of nascent democratic parties in Afghanistan.

Mr. MIAGUL WASEQ (People's Welfare Party): (Foreign language spoken)

REEVES: `Afghanistan's warlords have too much power and money,' he complains. `That's all they need to win a seat in Parliament. They can have party affiliations, but party symbols won't appear on ballot papers.'

Waseq believes this sidelines Afghanistan's new democratic parties even before they've got to their feet. Afghan officials counter this by saying that Afghanistan's recent history--Soviet occupation, civil war and Taliban rule--has given its people a deep dislike of political parties. Their approach to this election is, they say, the best way of involving the people. And, says Kippen of the ECC, so far the public does seem interested.

Mr. KIPPEN: Well, if you look back to the presidential election last year, there was a lot of speculation as to whether or not Afghans would turn out to the polls on election day. And I think beyond everybody's expectations, there was a huge turnout. I think just based on what we've seen so far in terms of the nomination process, the challenge process, that, yes, Afghans are engaged, are involved.

REEVES: Philip Reeves, NPR News, Kabul. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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Philip Reeves is an award-winning international correspondent covering South America. Previously, he served as NPR's correspondent covering Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India.