Afghan men and women over twenty-five may now register to run in the September national assembly elections. Thousands of candidates are expected to compete for two-hundred-forty-nine seats. Registration will continue until May 19th. Each candidate's picture and a symbol will be placed on the ballot to assist illiterate Afghan voters. More than ten-million Afghans will be eligible to vote. Voters will also choose representatives to thirty-four provincial councils.
"These elections are a major turning point in Afghanistan's turbulent history," said Bissmillah Bissmil, chairman of the joint United Nations-Afghanistan commission that will conduct the elections. "With these elections we shall finally have a democratic, representative government and end the rule of the gun," said Mr. Bissmil.
But some Afghans say that violent extremists and private militias remain a threat to the democratic process. "The warlords are still in power and have not disarmed completely," said Abdul Khaliq Nemat, leader of the National Coordination Party. Intimidation by private militias, he said, will make it "difficult for people to get their own representatives into the parliament."
Political party posters can be seen in public places in many Afghan cities and towns. Television, radio, and Afghanistan's print media are full of commentary and debate on issues of concern to voters. Azam Iqbal, spokesman for the electoral commission, says the Afghan people are taking a lively interest in the elections:
"The people are very excited about this. We are expecting between five- and ten-thousand candidates will be there."
The U.S. has already contributed twelve million dollars to support the upcoming Afghan elections. The U.S. and other nations will continue to help Afghans meet their security needs and protect voters and candidates from violence.
President George W. Bush said the U.S. will help the Afghan people on their road to democracy. "Those who place their hope in freedom may be attacked and challenged, "said Mr. Bush, "but they will not ultimately be disappointed, because freedom is the design of humanity and freedom is the direction of history."
The preceding was an editorial reflecting the views of the United States government.