Afghanistan's electoral process is plagued by deep-rooted problems that will take years to fix, according to a report issued by a U.S. government watchdog agency as the country prepares for its first vote since last year's flawed presidential election.
The report by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction suggests that Saturday's parliamentary elections will likely be as messy and contested as last year's fraud-marred balloting that undermined international support for President Hamid Karzai's government.
The report, which was posted Sunday on the agency's website, notes that many logistical problems that led to fraud in the August 2009 presidential election have been addressed, such as better ballot tracking and determining where to open polling stations well in advance of the vote.
However, the Afghan voting process is still beset by deeper problems such as the lack of a reliable list of registered voters, insufficient candidate vetting and biased electoral organizations, the report said.
These are "long-term issues that will take years to address," the report states.
The 2009 presidential vote took months to resolve as allegations of ballot-box stuffing and results tampering poured in to observer groups. A U.N.-backed anti-fraud watchdog group eventually threw out a third of Karzai's votes, forcing the incumbent into a runoff.
Karzai was declared the winner after his top challenger, Abdullah Abdullah, pulled out of the race, saying he feared the run-off would be as beset with fraud as the first round balloting.
The drawn-out process raised questions whether Karzai could be considered a legitimate partner in the war against the Taliban, undermining a key pillar of President Barack Obama's war strategy.
Karzai's international partners have been trying to make sure Saturday's ballot is cleaner than the presidential vote. Afghans will choose 249 members of the lower house from among more than 2,500 candidates.
Yet the inspector general's report shows institutional problems remain.
The report, entitled "Lessons Learned in Preparing and Conducting Elections in Afghanistan," notes that the body that works to identify fraud, the Independent Complaints Commission, has become less independent since the presidential vote.
Now all of the commissioners are appointed by the president. Karzai appointed two international commissioners to the group, which previously had three international members chosen by the United Nations.
There also is still not an accurate list of registered voters in Afghanistan, the report says. In 2009, faked voter identification cards were common. Seven provinces showed more registered voters than the total population of the province, the report says, citing Afghan government statistics.
And finally, not enough is done to keep unqualified candidates from running, the report said. It called for tighter vetting to keep members of militia groups or regional warlords from dominating the process.