Afghan 2010 Basics: Candidates

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Thousands of billboards, posters and banners line the streets of Afghanistan’s cities, each an advertisement for some of the 2,584 candidates in the country’s parliamentary elections.

Most picture candidates in somber pose, their name printed below and the vital randomly-assigned symbol to help illiterate voters remember which box to tick on September 18, election day.

The candidates, most of whom are running as unaligned independents, are vying for 249 seats in the country’s lower assembly, known as the Wolesi Jirga.

With seats awarded across the country’s 34 provinces on a per capita basis, 33 seats are up for grabs in Kabul, where some of the province’s candidates have elected to stand due to security concerns in their own province.

A quarter of the assembly’s total seats are reserved for women with a total of 406 female candidates competing for the 68 seats.

Ten seats are allocated to members of the nomadic kuchi tribe.

Under the Consititution and Electoral Law, a candidate to be eligible to stand must be an Afghan citizen, at least 25 years old, a registered voter and have no criminal record.

Additionally, they must have provided proof of support from 1,000 registered voters and paid 30,000 afghani (about US$650). The fee is refunded if the candidate is successful or obtains at least three per cent of their constituency’s vote.

Those holding governmental positions must have resigned before they lodged their nomination as a candidate.

Those deemed by the Independent Election Commission (IEC) to be a commander or member of an unofficial military force or illegally-armed group are forbidden from registering as a candidate.

At least sixty-four candidates were removed from the ballots during the vetting process.

Of these, 31 were found to be members or leaders of an illegally-armed group and 25 had failed to resign from their government post. Eight would-be candidates were removed after failing to file their registration forms correctly.

Some observers, including the Free & Fair Election Foundation of Afghanistan (FEFA), have said the vetting process has been less stringent than for last year’s presidential elections, when the United Nations Disbandment of Illegal Armed Groups Programme assisted the IEC and Electoral Complaints Commission in the vetting process. As a result, some militia and insurgent leaders and members are on the candidates list.

In addition to using billboards, posters and TV ads to publicize their campaigns, many candidates invite elders in their constituency to lavish feasts where bags of rice and cooking oil are distributed to the guests.

The practice, however, this year has been slightly curtailed by much of the campaign’s final month coinciding with the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, where fasting occurs during daylight hours.