Key facts about Afghanistan’s election

President Hamid Karzai is constitutionally barred from seeking another term in office

An Afghan man tries to control his donkey loaded with ballot boxes. Photograph: Ahmad Masood/Reuters

An Afghan man tries to control his donkey loaded with ballot boxes. Photograph: Ahmad Masood/Reuters


Afghanistan holds a presidential election today that is hoped will lead to the first democratic transfer of power in its history.

President Hamid Karzai, who has led Afghanistan for more than 12 years since the fall of the Taliban, is constitutionally barred from seeking another term in office.

Of the eight candidates, the three frontrunners are former foreign ministers Abdullah Abdullah and Zalmay Rassoul and former finance minister Ashraf Ghani. To win, a candidate must secure more than 50 per cent of valid ballots, failing which the top two candidates go into a run-off. The three frontrunners all enjoy similar levels of support, so a second round of voting is likely.

The process is almost certain to drag on for several months, partly because of Afghanistan’s difficult terrain, which will require about 3,000 donkeys to carry ballots and voting boxes to the country’s most inaccessible areas.

The likelihood of allegations of mass fraud by rival candidates could further delay and complicate vote counting. The final result from the first round may not be known until at least mid-May. If there is a second round, it is scheduled to be held at the end of that month. The name of the new leader may not be known for months, and some sources believe it might not be confirmed before October.

Some details of the election:
n There are

almost 28,500 polling centres and smaller polling stations. But at least 10 per cent of polling stations are expected to be closed because of security threats, according to Independent Election Commission secretary Ziaulhaq Amarkhel.

n Polling stations are to be open from 7a m to 4 p m today, but some could remain open for two hours longer, depending on the number of voters.

n Some 200,000 Afghan observers are expected to monitor the vote: roughly 10 per polling station. But they are unlikely to be spread evenly across the country, because of security .

n Two of the three main international observer missions pulled out foreign staff after the Taliban attacked a highly fortified hotel in the capital, Kabul, where many were staying . Nine people were kill ed.

n Afghanistan, with a population of about 30 million, has 12 million eligible voters, but as many as 18 million voter cards are in circulation.

n Turnout was 4.6 million in the 2009 presidential election, which was considered low. Some 1.2 million ballots were thrown out as fraudulent. Afghanistan has printed 15 million ballot papers this time, but spiralling violence may once again keep the turnout down.

n The Taliban have threatened to disrupt the election, which they see as a U S -backed sham. They have been staging almost daily attacks, mainly in Kabul .

n Afghanistan’s authorities say they will deploy 352,000 personnel to provide security . – (Reuters)

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