March 30, 2018 / 1:55 PM / in 8 months

Afghanistan sets October date for much-delayed elections

FILE PHOTO - Afghan President Ashraf Ghani speaks during during a peace and security cooperation conference in Kabul, Afghanistan February 28, 2018. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani

KABUL (Reuters) - Afghanistan aims to hold parliamentary and local district elections in October, more than three years late, a senior election official said, although much work needs to happen quickly to meet that timeline in the war-ravaged country.

The elections are considered a dry run for the presidential vote to be held in 2019 and a test of whether Afghanistan’s Western-backed government can overcome past election problems of poor security and fraud.

President Ashraf Ghani and international donor countries have all said elections need to happen this year. Some Western diplomats doubt, however, that there is enough time to organize the vote in 2018.

The Independent Elections Commission (IEC) would hold the election on Oct. 20, IEC chairman Gula Jan Abdul Badi Sayad said on Friday. He said voter registration would start in mid-April.

The current parliament’s five-year term was to expire in June 2015, but Ghani extended it by decree amid security fears and disagreements on how to prevent fraud.

The main challenges ahead of the vote are registering Afghans, many of whom do not have identification documents, and setting up ballot stations in remote areas. Plans for voter security and preventing fraud are also critical.

Afghanistan has held two parliamentary elections since the end of Taliban rule, in 2005 and 2010. District council elections have never been held.

The 2014 presidential election produced no agreed winner and led to a U.S.-brokered deal that saw former rivals Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah forced into an uneasy coalition that has struggled to win popular support.

Reporting by Abdul Aziz Ibrahimi; Writing by Rod Nickel; Editing by Edmund Blair

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