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Security Threats an Issue for Nearly Half of All Voting Sites: IEC

Ziaulhaq Amarkhail, the head of the Independent Election Commission (IEC) Secretariat, acknowledged major concerns regarding the securing of polling sites for the upcoming election on Monday. According to the IEC official, 3,410 out of the total 6,845 planned centres face notable security threats.

Security for the upcoming Presidential and Provincial elections has become one of the leading issues of debate and concern surrounding preparations for the opening of polls on April 5, as well the voter registration process that has been underway since June. In light of persistent security threats from insurgents, the openings of registration centres in numerous districts across the country have been delayed. Assurances offered by security officials that adequate steps would be taken have been matched evenly by doubts voiced by politicians and analysts.

"If the security institutions are not able to provide security for 3,410 polling booths, the IEC will not be able to conduct the elections. Nobody should be deprived of their voting right due to insecurity," said Mr. Amarkhail. "We have shared our concern with the security institutions and President and they have assured us that security would be provided."

Last week, the IEC convened a security assessment meeting between representatives from all of the major security offices in Afghanistan. The officials reviewed current security arrangements for the voter registration process and chalked out a strategy to secure the areas that are under threat ahead of next spring.

According to the most recent reports offered by security officials, among the 6,845 total polling stations, security for 3,435 has been guaranteed, leaving 3,410 polling centers still under threat.

The IEC has grouped the varying levels of security threats into four main categories: low threat, higher threat, serious threat and threats in areas where militants have control.

A total of 259 polling stations have been classified as being in areas under militant control. They are located in the provinces of Nuristan, Helmand, Ghazni, Badakhshan, Faryab, Parwan, Sar-e-Pul, Kandahar and Pakitika.

Ahead of last week's security assessment meeting, Mr. Amarkhail said that it was of critical importance to improve security ahead of the elections for not just the obvious reason of ensuring people's safety, but also in order to build public trust and encourage people to participate.

However, securing voting stations may not be a silver-bullet when it comes to building confidence and encouraging participation in the elections. IEC officials also noted an insufficient number of policewomen available for the elections. Female police officers are needed at the polls to conduct hands-on security checks for female voters. IEC officials suspect a lack of female officers at certain stations could dissuade women from showing up to cast their ballots.

The IEC said that over 12,000 policewomen are needed to sufficiently service all the voting centres in the country. However, the Afghan National Police (ANP) has only 2,000 female officers at the moment.

"In the previous election there were fewer female officers," acknowledged Mr. Amarkhail. "This time, we are hoping that more policewomen would be inducted so as to boost the confidence of women and ensure their participation."

In response to the IEC's concerns, security officials assured that they were doing everything they could to address the issues and ready security for the elections.

"Providing security during the elections and safely conducting the voting process across the country is our priority," said Mohammad Yaoub Salangi, the Deputy of Security Affairs for the Ministry of Interior (MoI). "We are trying our best to provide security in all cites, villages and highways."

Officials, analysts and advocates alike have emphasized the importance of high voter turnout for the elections. The thought is that if only a small amount of voters show, the elections results would be unrepresentative of the whole Afghan population and therefore appear less legitimate. Other than the practical implications of ensuring polling stations are open and operational, the power of perception – how secure people feel they are participating in the election – is clearly a high priority for the IEC.

TOLO News.com 02 September 2013

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