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Afghanistan: Ballot versus bullets

Last updated on: August 19, 2009 

Afghanistan: Ballot versus bullets

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War-torn Afghanistan will elect a new president on Thursday, August 20. Members of the provincial council will also be elected in the election that is being conducted against the backdrop of horrific terror.

There are 41 candidates in the presidential race, including the incumbent, Hamid Karzai.

On Tuesday, a suicide bomber killed at least 10 people in an attack on a convoy of western troops in Kabul. Hours after the attack, the government banned the media from reporting suicide bombings and other violence during the election.


Image: Observers feel President Hamid Karzai has an advantage.
Photographs: Reuters
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Tough road ahead for the Afghan people

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The president is elected for a five-year term and can serve a maximum of two terms. To win the election, a presidential candidate must receive more than 50% of the votes cast in Thursday's election. If no candidate wins this tally, a runoff election will be held on October 1.

Seventeen million of Afghanistan's 30 million people are registered to vote. The minimum voting age is 18.

More than 3,000 donkeys have been being mobilised to carry election-related material to far flung areas in a country that has been ravaged by unending violence for 30 years.


Image: A donkey carries poll-related material in Afghanistan.
Photographs: Reuters
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The man who could surprise Karzai

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Backed by the Americans and other Western countries, Hamid Karzai was selected to lead the Afghan interim government in December 2001 after the Taliban was vanquished. Three years later, Karzai, who was educated in Shimla, won his first election, receiving more than 55% of the vote.

One of his main rivals this election is his former foreign minister, Dr Abdullah Abdullah.

An eye surgeon trained in India, Dr Abdullah was a close associate of Ahmed Shah Masoud, the legendary Afghan rebel leader who was killed by Al Qaeda assassins two days before 9/11. He represents the United National Front Opposition alliance.

Dr Abdullah says he is open to negotiation with the Taliban and indeed with militants willing to lay down their arms.


Image: Dr Abdullah Abdullah, Karzai's main rival
Photographs: Reuters
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America's preferred nominee

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Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai is said to be America's preferred candidate as Afghanistan's president.

Washington has fallen out of love with Karzai who they see as ineffective.

Policy makers in both the Bush and Obama administrations are impatient with Karzai's mollycoddling of Afghan warlords, his inability to crack down on the drug trade which finances the Taliban.

Ghani played a key role in the reconstruction of Afghanistan, primarily as special adviser to the then United Nations special envoy to Afghanistan, Lakhdar Brahimi.

Before becoming chancellor of Kabul University he was Afghanistan's finance minister between 2002 and 2004, before he too fell out with Karzai.


Image: Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai
Photographs: Reuters
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The Maverick

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Running as an Independent, Dr Ramazan Bashardost is an outspoken member of Parliament. Thanks to his austere image and reputation as a maverick, he is very popular among the country's poor.

Once a minister in Karzai's government, the France educated politician lives in a tent during the summer and with his parents, who reportedly disapprove of his almost monastic ways, during the harsh Afghan winter.


Image: Ramazan Bashardost
Photographs: Reuters
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Will the Afghans elect a lady president?

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Frozen Fana and Shahla Atta are the two lady candidates in the fray. Fana promises more jobs for women while Atta says she wants to start work immediately on making life better for the neglected 50% of the country.

The Taliban has urged Afghans to boycott the election, saying the outcome has already been decided by the United States.

A New York Times report said the possibility of large-scale non-participation by the Pashtuns -- the dominant ethnic community in Afghanistan, from which Karzai hails and which dominates the Taliban -- will cast a cloud over the election.


Image: A scene from the campaign in Kabul.
Photographs: Reuters
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