- Associated Press - Friday, September 17, 2010

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Afghan President Hamid Karzai urged citizens to vote in Saturday’s parliamentary election despite a Taliban threat warning people not to leave their homes and violence on the eve of the ballot.

The head of a voting center in the south was killed Friday evening when his vehicle struck a roadside bomb — one of at least 22 people who have been killed in election-related violence, observers said. In addition, one candidate and 18 election workers have been kidnapped in the run-up to the vote that will test the government’s ability to hold legitimate elections after last year’s disastrous presidential vote.

“Tomorrow’s election is very important,” Mr. Karzai told reporters. “I hope that all our people in all corners of the country, in any village will go to the polling centers and to vote for their favorite candidate.”

The international coalition supporting Afghanistan with 140,000 troops and billions of dollars will be watching to see if the election will be safe and fair and not a repeat of the fraud-marred presidential vote in August 2009 that nearly undermined Karzai’s credibility with his international backers.

About 2,500 candidates are vying for 249 parliamentary seats allocated among the 34 provinces according to population.

Results of the voting for the relatively weak legislature are unlikely to affect Mr. Karzai’s administration. However, the elections will be an indicator of the strength of the insurgency as NATO and Afghan forces work to secure polling stations in volatile areas.

Taliban threats — some announced to reporters, some whispered in mosques, some written on leaflets left around town — have increased in the days leading up to the vote, even as the insurgent group has reportedly quietly backed candidates in some provinces.

The U.S. envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke, told reporters in Islamabad on Friday that he knows the election — taking place amid a robust insurgency — will not be perfect.

“You’ll want to look at how much the Taliban are able to disrupt” the ballot, Mr. Holbrooke said.

But NATO’s senior civilian representative, Mark Sedwill, said the Taliban face a dilemma.

“They talk about the purpose of their insurgency being to get rid of international forces from the country,” Mr. Sedwill said. “Well, these elections are not about the international forces. These elections are about the Afghans themselves.”

In the eastern province of Khost, police said mosques were blanketed with leaflets overnight promising a violent vote.

“The people of Khost should not go to the voting centers. If anyone goes, we will punish them,” the notes said, according to provincial police Chief Abdul Hakim Isaqzai.

The same message was written on leaflets the Taliban were passing out in Kandahar.

Asked what message he wanted to give to the Taliban, Mr. Karzai replied: “Those Taliban, who are sons of Afghanistan, are Muslim. They should serve their country and participate, and build their country and build stability.”

Story Continues →