Afghanistan’s legislative elections will be held on October 20, officials said on Sunday, following three years of delays as the war-torn country grapples with a resurgent Taliban and political instability.
The polls were originally set to be held in 2015 following presidential elections the previous year, but were repeatedly pushed back due to security fears and logistical issues within the fragile unity government.
If held, candidates will contest the 249 seats in the National Assembly for five-year terms. The country will also hold regional elections in tandem in some 400 districts across Afghanistan — several of which are outside of Kabul’s control.
“Holding elections is not an easy job in Afghanistan,” said Abdul Badi Sayad, Afghanistan’s election commission chief, adding that voters will be able to apply for registration cards in mid-April before candidates formally declare.
The polls come just months ahead of the presidential elections scheduled for April 2019.
However, western diplomats continue to express doubt over the government’s ability to oversee the project amid heightened security threats countrywide.
Following the announcement, the United Nations lauded the commission’s move, but called for the inclusion of all Afghans in the process.
“The participation of all Afghans in the electoral process, not merely the elections themselves, is critical,” said Tadamichi Yamamoto, the UN secretary-general’s special representative for Afghanistan.
Questions continue to linger over how polling will be held in contested areas and if Afghans lacking identity cards and those displaced by conflict will be eligible to vote.
Taliban and Islamic State militants have been ramping up attacks in Kabul in recent months, piling pressure on the Afghan government, which is frequently scolded for its inability to protect civilians.
The Taliban has been resurgent since the withdrawal of US-led NATO combat troops in late 2014, seizing chunks of territory and blistering Afghanistan’s beleaguered security forces.
Last month, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani extended an olive branch to the Taliban, suggesting that if they are prepared to negotiate they could be recognised as a political party with a legitimate role in Afghanistan’s future.
In October, insurgents controlled or influenced nearly half of Afghanistan’s districts — double the percentage in 2015, the US government’s office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction said in January.
Over the same period, the watchdog said, the number of districts under Afghan government control or influence fell to its lowest level since December 2015.