KABUL — Voter registration for Afghanistan’s 2014 presidential election began Saturday, with poor security proving to be the main challenge in the crucial process.
Holding a successful vote will be a key test not only for incumbent Hamid Karzai’s government, but also for the governments of Western nations — led by the United States — who have spent tens of billions of dollars to cement democracy in the country since the ousting of the Taliban in 2001.
The poll, slated for April 5, 2014, will also be significant for the country’s political stability as more than 12 years of war and conflicts have created tension among factional strongmen who consider themselves to be leaders of certain ethnic groups.
The election will coincide with the withdrawal date of all combat Western troops from a country that has seen a number of attacks during voting in past presidential and parliamentarian polls.
The voter registration will last for two months and will cover approximately 4 million people across the country, according to Noor Ahmad Noor, a spokesman for Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission (IEC).
The process will initially target Kabul and other major cities and will later be expanded to smaller districts, he added.
IEC’s chief Fazal Ahmad Manawi said the commission has given security groups lists of centers of regions with poor security records, but has not heard from them about specific arrangements.
“Security remains the biggest concern” of the voting process, he said.
There were complaints of massive fraud, mostly in Karzai’s favor, in the last presidential election in 2009 when attacks by the Taliban disrupted voting in dozens of centers.
Karzai has been the leader of Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban. The country’s constitution states that he cannot nominate himself for a third time.
One of Karzai’s brothers, Qayoum Karzai, as well as Hanif Atmar, a former interior minister, and Fauzia Koufi, a prominent female lawmaker, are among the would-be presidential candidates.