Afghanistan: Security concerns over voter registration process

News and Press Release
Originally published
KABUL, 23 October 2008 (IRIN) - The decision by the Afghan government to use hundreds of medical and educational facilities as voter registration centres has sparked concern about potential security risks to aid workers, students and other civilians.

Afghanistan is expected to hold presidential elections in 2009 with financial and technical assistance from the UN and other donors. President Hamid Karzai has said he will seek re-election for another five-year term.

In a bid to ensure peoples' participation the government has designated schools, hospitals and mosques all over the country as voter registration stations.

"Because people have better access to hospitals, schools and mosques we decided to use them for the voter registration process," Zekria Barakzai from the election commission told IRIN.

Taliban insurgents, who have plunged parts of the country into chaos and violence, have repeatedly threatened they will disrupt the election process by attacking electoral sites and election workers.

Voter registration has already started in Logar, Nangarhar, Kunar, Laghman, Parwan, Kapisa and a few other provinces, and should be extended to volatile southern parts of the country in the coming months.

The insurgents fired a rocket on a health facility used as a voter registration centre in Ghazni Province on 20 October, killing one and wounding several others, local media reported.

Schools, hospitals

"Schools and hospitals must not be used for political and military purposes," said Member of Parliament Noorulhaq Ulomi.

The health and education ministries have also acknowledged that hospitals and schools are civilian and non-political facilities.

"Hospitals and medical workers have already suffered armed attacks and we are very concerned that their use in the electoral process could increase security threats to them," Health Ministry spokesman Abdullah Fahim told IRIN.

The Education Ministry echoed the concerns, but said: "The election is a national process and we must support it."

Hundreds of schools have been torched and dozens of students and education workers killed by insurgents and other militants over the past three years, according to aid agencies.

Medical workers in Logar, Kunar and Nangarhar provinces have voiced concerns about their safety in hospitals and clinics used in the election process, and some parents are worried about their children at school: "If the Taliban attack schools where voters register, our children will certainly be harmed. We don't want this to happen," said Gul Mohammad, a father of four.

At least seven voter registration sites have been closed due to insecurity, the election commission said.