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Preparations Continue for Fast-Approaching Presidential Election

On August 20 the Afghan people will head to the polls to elect a president and choose the members of their provincial councils in what will be the first Afghan-led electoral process in three decades and second presidential election in Afghan history. The elections will be overseen by the Independent Election Commission and include assistance from the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), NATO and the U.S.

In the presidential contest, there are 41 candidates for the country's highest office and 82 candidates for the vice-presidency. There are 3,195 candidates for provincial councils. The number of candidates for both the presidency and the provisional councils increased since the last round of elections in 2004 and 2005. The most dramatic increases have been seen in the number of women running for office, with twice as many vying for the presidency. There has also been an increase from 2 to 7 women running for vice-president and a 20 percent rise in the number of women seeking seats on provincial councils.

The process of voter registration took place from October 2008 to March 2009, during which an additional 4 million Afghans registered to vote. The voter rolls now total over 16 million Afghans, of which 35 percent are women.

The Independent Election Commission has continued logistical preparations for the August poll, as millions of paper ballots arrived in Kabul over the weekend on four flights. The commission has also established a free phone helpline and increased the number of operators so as to handle the 30,000 to 40,000 weekly phone calls. More than 1,600 civic educators are briefing voters across the country with an 11-page flip chart detailing the process. The commission has also started a massive broadcasting campaign of informational television and radio advertising spots and has expanded the reach of the Electoral Complaints Commission.

In a press conference on July 20, one month from the election, a UNAMA spokesperson pledged the organization's support to ensure a free, fair and safe process. "Allow me to assure you that there will be no let up on behalf of the international community in underlining the importance of security over the coming weeks so every Afghan who has the constitutional and democratic right to vote is provided with that opportunity on poling day," said Aleem Siddique, UNAMA's spokesperson at a press conference in Kabul.

Additionally, on July 15 the president of the UN Security Council issued a statement expressing the council's support for the elections. The council welcomed the "Afghan-led preparation for the upcoming presidential and provincial council elections and stresses the importance that the elections be free, fair, transparent, credible, secure and inclusive. The Security Council also calls upon the people of Afghanistan to exercise their vote in this historic opportunity for all Afghans to make their voices heard."

On June 17, President Barack Obama welcomed the start of the campaign season leading up to the election in Afghanistan. "I congratulate the Afghan people on the start of your official election campaign period. On August 20 this year, the people of Afghanistan will choose a President to lead your nation, and also elect provincial councils to represent you locally," he said.

"Each nation gives life to democracy in its own way, grounded in the traditions of its own people. The United States does not support or oppose any particular Presidential or Provincial Council candidate. Instead, we support the right of the people of Afghanistan to choose their own leaders. That is why we are working with Afghan electoral authorities and the United Nations to help Afghans ensure a credible, secure, and inclusive election process in which all candidates have fair access to media, can freely travel and campaign, and are comfortable with the integrity of the ballots cast on election day," he stated.

Related News: Afghans Should Vote Without Fear and With Confidence (UNAMA)

                      Security Council Presidential Statement on Afghan Elections (UN)

                      President Obama Welcomes Afghan Presidential Election Season

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