Second round of Afghan presidential elections to be held Nov. 7

Election authorities are delivering ballots across Afghanistan with UN assistance, as hurried preparations for the Nov. 7 runoff in the nation's presidential election are underway.

CA Online and wire services

2009-10-30

KABUL — Election authorities are delivering ballots across Afghanistan with UN assistance, as hurried preparations for the Nov. 7 run-off in the nation's presidential election are underway.

International election monitors called on authorities to avoid the widespread fraud that marred the first round of voting in August. Scores of election staff accused of misconduct have been relieved of their duties, and new personnel are being hired to replace them.

President Hamid Karzai will face former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah in the run-off. He announced that he was ready to take part a day after Karzai bowed to intense Western pressure and acknowledged he fell short of the 50 percent threshold needed for victory in the Aug. 20 election. UN-backed auditors invalidated nearly a third of Karzai's votes because of fraud.

Organising the second round of balloting in a little more than two weeks poses a huge challenge for the country. The preparations come amid a growing Taliban insurgency and ahead of winter snows in mountainous Afganistan, which begin in much of the country in mid-November.

UN planes provided logistical support to the country's Independent Election Commission, flying ballots and voting kits to provincial capitals, from where they will be delivered by electoral officials to thousands of polling stations by truck, helicopter and donkey, UN spokesman Dan McNorton said.

The International Election Committee (IEC), the UN body running the election, is dominated by Karzai supporters. It is under great pressure to avoid a repeat of the massive fraud that marred the first voting.

In an effort to reduce cheating, officials will reduce the number of polling stations from 24,000 for the August ballot to 17,000 in the second round. Some of the 7,000 polling centres were in areas too dangerous to protect; while others never opened to the public, enabling corrupt officials to stuff their ballot boxes with impunity. About 200 of 2,950 district election coordinators will be replaced, following complaints of misconduct leveled by candidates or observers, the UN said.

Finding replacements for coordinators and poll workers implicated in fraud will be difficult in a country in which more than 70 percent of the population is illiterate. The government had to scramble last summer to recruit enough election officials and poll workers, particularly at voting stations reserved for women.

[AP]

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