KABUL, Dec 26 (Reuters) - Afghanistan aims to hold a vote for the lower house of parliament by late May although fraud, security and funding could all be problems, he said.
Corruption, violence and voter intimidation seriously marred last August's presidential vote and critics say a May poll date does not leave enough time to guarantee the safeguards and institutional reforms needed to prevent another flawed result.
But Zekria Barakzai, deputy head of the government-appointed Independent Election Commission (IEC) of Afghanistan, told Reuters the president, chief justice and speakers of both houses of parliament had met and agreed elections should go ahead then.
Under Afghanistan's constitution, a new lower house must be in place by June 22 and elections held a minimum 30 days before this. Barakzai said the IEC would announce a firm date by Jan 3.
"The only problem we have right now is how it will be funded. We are talking to the finance ministry to see if it can be funded from the Afghan budget," Barakzai said.
The presidential election cost Western governments over $220 million, and while the parliament vote might be slightly cheaper, none seem keen to foot a bill that would still run into millions.
"There is nobody, I mean nobody, stepping up to the plate to fund elections without root and branch reform of the electoral system. Our public back home simply won't accept it," said one Western diplomat who asked not to be named.
A U.N.-backed probe found that a third of President Hamid Karzai's votes in this year's Aug. 20 poll were fake, angering foreign governments, who support Karzai with cash and troops.
"(The timing) is a decision for the Afghan government but our view is that we want elections to be credible and robust," British Embassy spokesman Paul Norris said when asked whether the British government would support a May poll. "Lessons have to be learned from the previous presidential election."
Violence is at its worst since the Taliban was overthrown by U.S.-backed Afghan forces in late 2001 and Barakzai said some areas may not be able to hold a vote because of safety concerns. He also admitted some fraud concerns would go untackled.
"Security will be the main obstacle to this election, because if some provinces or areas are not secure, we will not be able to open polling booths in those areas," he said.
Taliban fighters were not able to completely disrupt August's vote but their many attacks on polling booths, especially in the restive south, kept voters away and facilitated vote-rigging.
Western countries also seem reluctant to risk soldiers lives to protect any election seen as a repeat of that debacle.
But there is no guarantee a later poll would not face similar security problems, Barakzai pointed out.
The IEC also hopes parliamentary candidates could play a role in combating corruption in their own districts.
"Much of the election is in the hands of candidates, who can send their own representatives to election outposts," he said.
- Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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