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Afghans vote, ready or not

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Voter education programs, implemented by the United Nations, have aimed at telling Afghans that their vote is secret. Yet, according to one survey, the education efforts have reached only 14 percent of Afghan voters.

Flaws such as this have led many media and human rights organizations to be critical of the election process. Among other problems, pressure from Taliban insurgents and from factional warlords could persuade many voters to vote a certain way, or not at all. Apparent voter fraud is also a concern. The 10.6 million registrations exceeded the UN's estimate of 9.8 million eligible voters. Registration topped estimates in 13 of 34 provinces - four of those by more than 140 percent. UN officials concede that multiple registrations are "probable" and that President Karzai may be violating the letter of the law by using US military helicopters - i.e., foreign assistance - for travel to campaign events.

The darkest assessment may be the refusal of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to send election monitors to Afghanistan, because "the present conditions in Afghanistan are significantly below the minimum regarded by OSCE ... as necessary for credible election observation."

'Manageable' flaws

The UN, for its part, agrees that this election will have its flaws, but says these flaws are manageable. "The degree of freedom and fairness is adequate to allow the will of the Afghan people to be translated at the polls," says Manoel de Almeida e Silva, spokesman for the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan. The main point, he adds, is that "we are seeing the emergence of a pluralistic system that offers voters a gamut of choices" for its leadership.

Other democracy builders in Afghanistan agree that it's much too early to get pessimistic about democracy in Afghanistan, and it's unwise to hold the country to unrealistic expectations.

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