Dozens Of Candidates Will Try To Unseat Karzai

In Afghanistan, the election campaign kicks off this week for next month's presidential elections. There are dozens of candidates on the ballot, trying to unseat President Hamid Karzai. The campaign gets underway amid concerns over voter apathy and serious security problems in many parts of the country.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep.

This week marks the beginning of campaign season in Afghanistan. The last time the country voted the international community ran the elections. This time, Afghans will hold their own contest. And we'll hear a lot more about it this summer when MORNING EDITION plans to broadcast from Afghanistan.

MONTAGNE: Dozens of candidates are trying to unseat the incumbent, President Hamid Karzai. But the campaign gets underway amid concerns over voter apathy and serious security problems in many parts of the country. NPR's Jackie Northam reports from Kabul.

JACKIE NORTHAM: There are 41 candidates on the presidential slate. And that's far fewer than what was expected. Only the names of two candidates - both former members of Karzai's government - occasionally bubble to the surface as viable challengers. The rest of the pack are a mix of writers, government ministers, warlords and many others who just fit the basic requirements of eligibility, including being at least 40 years of age, of sound mind and born in Afghanistan.

Azizullah Ludin, the head of Afghanistan's independent election commission, says it would be a better race with just two or three quality candidates.

Mr. AZIZULLAH LUDIN (Afghanistan independent election commission): (Through translator) I am ashamed when I ask a candidate if he is literate and he says now, if he has work experience and he says no, if he's a mullah in a mosque and he says no. but he says he's going to run for president.

NORTHAM: Despite concerns over the number and caliber of the candidates, the presidential campaign is pushing ahead. Although it doesn't officially open until Tuesday, some campaign offices are already open.

(Soundbite of hammering)

You have to walk up three flights of old cement stairs to get to this campaign headquarters.

Unidentified Man #1: (Foreign language spoken)

NORTHAM: Inside the grimy campaign office several men drink tea and have a boisterous conversation about the election. Their candidate is Nazrullah Broyoli(ph). Like most of the other candidates he wants better governance and security and an end to the corruption that has permeated the Karzai administration. But Broyoli says his resources are limited.

Mr. NAZRULLAH BROYOLI (Presidential candidate, Afghanistan): Some of candidates they've got a lot of resources, a lot of money. They got private TV channels. And there are some candidates they got no money. They got no private TV or radio channels behind. I am one of them.

NORTHAM: Each of the candidates will get half an hour of free television air time to make their case to the public. It's part of a massive outreach program to educate people about the campaign and the election.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Man #2: (Foreign language spoken)

NORTHAM: Public service announcements like this will run on Afghan radio stations over the next two months. The independent commission is organizing the whole process, because there are concerns that the international community, especially the U.S., will be seen as controlling the outcome.

Election officials will also spread throughout the country to talk to potential voters. Many parts of Afghanistan are remote. Others are dangerous with a flourishing insurgency and Taliban threats to disrupt the campaign.

Secree Habatic Sye(ph) with the election commission says some 35,000 Afghan police will be deployed. U.S. and NATO forces will also provide security.

Mr. SECREE HABATIC SYE (Afghanistan election commission): And they have prepared a very detailed plan of the operations and exercises and simulations was conducted. And they assured us that they will do everything possible to secure the environment.

NORTHAM: Still, there's a sense that the violence in Afghanistan, the lack of progress and the corruption will create voter apathy.

Unidentified Man #3: Hi, how are you doing?

NORTHAM: You don't sense that here on the grounds of Kabul University. Many of the students say they're excited about the campaign. That includes a 17-year-old political science student who uses just one name - Maqtadasa(ph).

Ms. MAQTADASA (Student, Kabul University): I'm going to (unintelligible) candidates. I'm going to select one of them or I'm going to vote one of them. And I will vote for the person that I would like to be the next president of Afghanistan.

NORTHAM: Maqtadasa says she believes Afghanistan is ready for democracy. After all, her mother is a member of parliament.

Jackie Northam, NPR News, Kabul.

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