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10/7/04 - ARMITAGE ON AFGHAN ELECTION  - 2004-10-08

On October 9th, more than ten-million Afghan men and women are expected to cast their ballots in a national election. Many candidates are running for president. Voter registration in all but two provinces has exceeded sixty-eight percent of the estimated voter registration population. Afghan refugees in Iran and Pakistan will also have the chance to vote.

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage says, "The number of people who registered to vote was phenomenal and staggering":

"The reason I say this is [because] I went out and visited election registrars in about mid-campaign, and they were nowhere near this number. It just started to spread like wildfire, so I thought that was a good sign."

Mr. Armitage says, "The people of Afghanistan are deciding that they want a change from the way business has been the past...quarter of a century":

"I think that the election is going pretty damn good in that people are getting out. There are rallies. Even rivals are standing together and at least what they are saying rhetorically is that: We’ve got to have an Afghanistan that represents all people."

Taleban and al-Qaida remnants may try to disrupt the election process. Afghans, NATO-led security forces, and members of the U.S.-led coalition "are prepared for that possibility," says Deputy Secretary of State Armitage. "Forces from forty-one countries, plus the Afghan National Army and police, will be on the ground, ready to defend the integrity of the election process and the right of the Afghan people to vote."

"What do people want?" asks Abdul Kahar, a hotel cook in Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital. "Peace, bread, and work," he says. "They feel the elections are a first step."