by Farid Behbud
KABUL, Sept. 20 (Xinhua) -- Political challenges and a deteriorating security situation have sparked fear among Afghans that the parliamentary elections in the war-torn country next month might be delayed once again.
Following the closure of the Afghan Election Commission (IEC) offices by disqualified candidates and supporters of political parties in three provinces, the IEC officials have warned that the election process would once again be delayed if the situation continues.
The IEC has slated Oct. 20 as the date for the upcoming parliamentary and district councils elections.
The first parliamentary election in post-Taliban Afghanistan was held in 2005, while the second parliamentary polls took place in 2010.
However, the 2015 parliamentary polls, originally set to be held in early 2015 following presidential elections, were repeatedly delayed.
Tadamichi Yamamoto, UN Secretary-General's Special Representative for Afghanistan and head of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, recently voiced concern about political challenges that he said might derail the upcoming elections in the conflict-ridden country next month.
"Operationally and technically, the preparations are on track. Yet I remain very concerned that political challenges could jeopardize the tight timelines and derail the elections unless all political leaders engage constructively and peacefully to ensure that elections are held on time," he told the Security Council.
Slamming the closure of its provincial offices as "an act against the law and national interest," the IEC urged the government to take action against demonstrators and reopen the offices in Bakh, Kandahar and Herat provinces.
"Any issue resulting in a delay in holding elections is in fact against the will of the people of Afghanistan," Gula Jan Abdul Badi Sayad, chairman of the IEC, told a press briefing on Sunday.
He urged the political parties to increase cooperation with the commission to hold a transparent election and urged the government, particularly the security organs, to maintain security of the IEC staff, provincial offices and the candidates.
Over the past few months, Afghanistan, especially Kabul, has witnessed waves of terror attacks by the Islamic State (IS) and Taliban insurgents opposing the country's elections.
Since the start of the voters' registration process in mid-April, 55 people, including six parliamentary election runners, two electoral workers, several security force members and civilians have been killed during election-related violence.
Sayad has stated that the upcoming parliamentary elections would not be held on schedule, unless the commission's provincial offices opened soon.
The supporters of the Grand National Coalition of Afghanistan (GNCA) have recently closed the IEC offices in Balkh, Herat and Kandahar and have warned of shutting more provincial offices, unless their election-linked demands are met.
Accusing the government of engineering the elections, the parties have persisted in launching a voter biometric system, which they believe is the only way to ensure the process is transparent.
"Political parties are not in confrontation with the government, but want to have a transparent election through launching a biometric process," Humayoun Jareer, a member of the Hezb-e-Islami political party, told reporters.
However, the electoral officials said that there were no enough time or budget to meet the parties' demand and they have warned the parties to be responsible for creating obstacles to the process.
Political expert Jawid Kohistani told Xinhua that there is fear that if the election-related protests continue the process will be delayed.
"I think, unfortunately, the election will face technical problems and be delayed for up to a month, if the disqualified candidates widen the protests and the supporters of the Grand National Coalition cannot be convinced to join the process," said Kohistani.
He added that he did not reject the notion that the government could hold both parliamentary and presidential elections simultaneously, under the pretext of the ongoing protests.
The presidential election is expected to be held on April 20 next year.
Kohistani maintained the international community was interested in holding a free and fair election in Afghanistan, as it wants a tangible change to be brought to the process based on public consensus.
"Following the closure of the central IEC office by delisted candidates last month, the government said clearly that it will take measures to reopen the offices, and security forces have succeeded in clearing the protesters' tents outside the IEC headquarters in Kabul," said Kohistani.
The latest closure of IEC offices in three provinces, have led to the Afghanistan Interior Ministry warning that it will use force again if needed to reopen the offices and maintain the security of the election process.
"We have opened the IEC office in Herat province and soon we are going to reopen the offices in Kandahar and Balkh provinces soon," Nasrat Rahimi, a ministry spokesperson told local media.
Several IEC offices were reopened by security forces in both the capital and provinces, after about two weeks of protests last month.
Based on the electoral timeline, the election campaigns will start on Sept. 28 for parliamentary candidates and Oct. 3 is scheduled for the districts councils' nominees.