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Asia

Afghanistan set for crucial elections

Despite escalating violence, Afghanistan is set to hold historical elections on April 5. Although some say the vote won't be completely fair, it will be more credible than the 2009 poll, according to analysts.

The preparations for the Afghan presidential elections are in full swing. The candidates have had two months' time to lure voters. Alongside the usual election posters, there were large campaign rallies and - for the first time - televised debates.

Eight candidates out of an initial eleven are still in the race. According to unofficial polls, there are three frontrunners: Zalmai Rassoul, one of President Hamid Karzai's closest allies; Ashraf Ghani, who became finance minister and Abdullah Abdullah, who challenged Karzai at the polls back in 2009 and finished second with 30 percent of the vote.

In the meantime, the Taliban have stepped up their attacks over the past few weeks, killing nine people in a luxury hotel on March 21 and firing machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades at the country's electoral commission eight days later. Eighteen people were killed nationwide in bombings and suicide attacks on March 31 alone.

A constant threat

"The attacks are likely to continue over the next few days and probably after Election Day," Philipp Münch, analyst at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) told DW.

An Afghan policeman takes position near an election commission office during an attack by gunmen in Kabul March 29, 2014.

Experts say attacks by the Taliban are likely to continue over the next few days

"The assaults on the Serena Hotel and the Election Commission show that the Taliban are capable of attacking 'difficult' targets," he said. This means that the 350,000-strong Afghan security forces have to be in a constant state of alert.

Nevertheless, according to Adrienne Woltersdorf, director of the Kabul office of the German foundation Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, the security concerns have not discouraged the general population. "Especially in Kabul, where many attacks have taken place, people seem somewhat gloomy, but they are also determined to go ahead with the poll," she told DW.

Out of the more than 7,170 polling centers nationwide, some 750 - located mostly in the south of the country - will remain closed for security reasons, according to the Election Commission.

A more transparent vote

The past presidential elections were overshadowed by allegations of massive voter fraud. Many Afghans fear the electoral process won't be fair this year either, as there are many ways of rigging votes.

Afghan women are waiting outside of a voter registration center in Ghazni, Afghanistan on 31.03.2014 to get voting card

Woltersdorf says Afghans are determined to go ahead with the vote despite the violence

These concerns are shared by Hamidullah Noor Ebad, director of the National Policy Research Institute at Kabul University. Nonetheless, he hopes that Afghans have learned from the experiences made in 2009 and that this will lead to a better monitoring of polling stations this time round.

Woltersdorf points out, however, that neither the Afghans nor the international community expect the votes of the country's 12 million eligible voters to be correctly counted. What's important, she argues, is that the electoral results are credible and therefore acceptable to Afghan society. A one hundred-percent result is not to be expected in light of the fact that democracy was only introduced a short time ago in Afghanistan.

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