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Afghanistan: Campaigning in Crazyville

Fears of violence grow amid the madness of an upcoming Afghan election.

But with less than a month to go before election day, voters are concerned about more than a free lunch. Security in the country has deteriorated steadily, with the Taliban threatening once again to disrupt the poll. The IEC spokesman, Muhammad Farid Afghanzai, told Afghanistan’s most popular television station, TOLO, that only nine out of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces were fully secure.

Election officials say that more than 900 of the planned 6,800 polling centers will in all likelihood be unable to open due to threats from the insurgency, raising fears that this election, like the presidential one, may end up mired in allegations of fraud.

In the presidential elections, ballot-box stuffing and other irregularities were most prevalent in those areas where observers and monitors could not penetrate because of instability; a surprising number of “votes” were received from centers that did not even open their doors to the public.

Voter turnout is also a question. There is no minimum requirement for voter participation – in the presidential elections barely a third of an estimated 15 million eligible voters came to the polls. And following the long-drawn-out wrangling that followed last year’s ballot, many voters may not be willing to risk their lives for what they see as a fixed game.

The International Foundation for Electoral Systems, or IFES, an American non-profit organization, has been taking the pulse of the electorate throughout the country. In province after province, voters have expressed doubt in the validity of the system.

“The people do not believe in the elections,” Hussein Ali, a farmer, told an interviewer in Bamian. “The widespread fraud last time showed us that our votes have no value.”

Nor is the electorate as likely to be swayed by flowery speeches as in the past; jaded by years of disappointment, many see no reason to concern themselves this time.

“Candidates cannot trick people with empty promises any more,” said Mehar Angiz, a teacher in a girls’ school in Herat. “Last time their representatives did nothing for them.”

With the clear possibility of low voter turnout, insecurity in the provinces, and the naked desire of various power groups to get their candidates into the legislature to protect their interests, the stage is set for another acrimonious election process.

Welcome to Crazyville.