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Afghans Vote for "Fragmented Parliament"
KABUL, September 18, 2005 (IslamOnline.net & News Agencies) - Afghans started voting in national assembly and provincial elections Sunday, September 18, for the first time since 1969, with analysts predicting "a fragmented parliament".
About 12.5 million Afghans are registered to vote in the $159 million, UN-organized polls for a lower house of parliament and councils in all 34 provinces, Reuters reported.
About 160,000 polling staff are on duty at more than 6,000 polling stations in some of the most scenic and remote terrain on earth, from the desert in the south to valleys among the snow-capped Hindu Kush mountains in the north.
"(It) is the day of self-determination for the Afghan people," US-backed President Hamid Karzai told reporters after voting at a heavily guarded state guest house.
"That is why we are making history after 30 years of wars, interventions, occupations and misery."
Voters, including women in cover-all burqas, were searched before entering polling stations and workers posted signs saying weapons were not allowed. Police stood guard on roofs outside polling stations.
Protecting voters are about 100,000 troops, including about 20,000 from a US-led force and 10,000 NATO-led peacekeepers.
Polls close at 4:00 p.m. (11:30 GMT) and final results will not be announced for another month.
Analysts say it is impossible to predict what kind of parliament will emerge largely because of the electoral system in which voters get one vote in multi-member constituencies.
Under the system, chosen by Karzai despite UN misgivings, candidates run as independents, not party members, promising a fragmented parliament with a clamor of voices competing for state funds, Reuters said.
But an opposition bloc led by Yunus Qanuni has vowed to challenge Karzai, who has not been involved in campaigning.
Qanuni came a distant second to Karzai in the presidential vote in 2004.
"These elections are very important because until now it's been a presidential regime," Oliver Roy, a political analyst at France's National Centre for Scientific Research, told Reuters.
"Karzai has been elected but it's a one-man regime. To have a parliament is very important to give a democratic dimension to the regime."
Karzai is grappling with problems like having the world’s biggest narcotics industry, corruption and widespread frustration with a perceived lack of improvement in people's lives.
The United Nations painted in February a bleak picture of the situation in Afghanistan.
The first ever Afghanistan Human Development Report warned that unless the lack of jobs, health care, education and political participation were addressed, "the fragile nation could easily tumble back into chaos."
Many Afghans have, however, raised questions about the credibility of these elections, saying their votes would not make a difference as police would force them to vote as they did in the presidential election.
"We don't see our future, we don't know if it will be good or not," 40-year-old Mohammed Khan told Reuters.
"We don't know the benefits of the election. Election -- what does it mean?"
Others believe that no improvement will be done to their living standards.
"For me, what is the difference? What is democracy?" asks Sardar Khan, who doesn't know how old he is but could be anywhere between 50 and 70, according to Reuters.
"In the time of the Taliban we were poor Kuchi (shepherds), if this democracy comes, we will still be poor Kuchi."
Underlining the security threat, more than a dozen attacks were launched across the southeast and two rockets were fired, allegedly by the ousted Taliban fighters, into a UN compound near an election center in Kabul shortly after polls opened.
Only one exploded, slightly wounding an Afghan worker, an election official told Reuters.
Several hours earlier two policemen and three Taliban fighters were killed in an ambush near the Pakistani border.
Attackers threw two grenades into the house of a candidate in Nangarhar province in the east overnight. The candidate was not hurt but five family members were wounded, police said.
A US military spokesman said there had been attacks in more than a dozen areas in the southern and eastern provinces of Khost, Kandahar and Kunar in which at least six Afghan troops and one US soldier were wounded.
"We are seeing harassing attacks -- small arms, rocket grenades and IED [improvised explosive device] type of stuff, pretty much throughout the east and southeast of Afghanistan," said Colonel Jim Yonts.
Taliban spokesman Abdul Latif Hakimi said fighters had carried out 39 attacks including the rocket attack in Kabul.
Seven candidates and six poll workers were killed in the run-up to the ballot, according to a Reuters count.