12 August - With Afghanistan's parliamentary elections just over a month away, the top United Nations envoy there warned today that security will be the main challenge and called for extra vigilance to ensure that the polls are safe.

“We all know that security challenges will be a significant obstacle and we must ensure that poor security in parts of the country is not used to manipulate the votes of the people,” Staffan de Mistura, the Secretary-General's Special Representative for Afghanistan, said in a statement.

Preparations have been under way for the elections, slated to be held on 18 September. The ballot papers arrived in the country last week and campaigning by the large number of candidates has recently stepped up.

Mr. de Mistura said he was particularly encouraged by the active campaigns of women candidates, but voiced concern at the “widespread intimidation” with regard to female candidates, the killing of three candidates and other violence directed against a number of other candidates.

“This is unacceptable and we call upon the Afghan security forces to be on heightened vigilance over the coming two months,” he stated.

The UN is providing technical and logistical support to the polls, which the Special Representative stressed earlier this year must be an improvement over last year's presidential elections, which were marred by fraud.

“Operationally and administratively the IEC [Independent Electoral Commission] is on track. United Nations support to the elections has been as we promised – substantial but with a light footprint in deference to the growing capacity of Afghanistan's electoral authorities.”

Mr. de Mistura, who heads the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), noted that it is vital for operational reasons, and for the credibility of the elections, that the final voter list is made public by 18 August.

“Making this list public one month in advance of the elections is essential for the transparency of the electoral process. It will also show a marked difference and progress compared with the same stage of last year's presidential elections,” he stated.

He urged Afghan voters to follow all the candidates and their messages to ensure that they can make an informed decision when they go to the polls on 18 September.

“These elections are your elections,” he told them. “Your vote is the final decision-maker in this important process in determining your country's future.”