10/06/2004, 00.00
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Afghanistan's first democratic elections (Overview)

The key candidates running for election

Kabul (AsiaNews) - In a few days, democratic elections will be held for the first time in Afghanistan's history.  On October 9th, citizens will take to the 25,000 polling stations set up by the joint UN-Afghanistan Electoral Commission and choose from a list of 18 candidates.

More than 10.5 million people, out of a population of 28,513,677, have registered to vote.  Women account for 43% of registered voters.  Only three years ago, prior to the fall of the Taliban régime (1994-2001), women were not even allowed to work.  Separate voting stations will be set up for men and women.  Upon casting their vote, electors will have their thumb marked with indelible ink, to prevent voting fraud.  Afghans refugees outside the country have also been called to vote.  Voter registration is on-going in refugee camps: there are somewhere between 600,000 and 800,000 voters in Pakistan, and between 400,000 and 600,000 in Iran.  Legislative elections are planned to take place in the spring of 2005.

Given high rates of illiteracy in Afghanistan (calculated at 70% of the population), some 1,200 "civic educators" have been carrying out voting information programmes.

Continuous and violent threats on the part of Taliban militants are aimed at scuttling the vote.  There have been 957 deaths since the beginning of the year in fighting between US-led coalition forces (Enduring Freedom) and militia operating under Taliban and Al-Qaeda banners, especially on the border with Pakistan.  Among the dead are soldiers, civilians, relief workers, politicians, foreigners and locals.

With the new constitution approved last January "no law is against Islam; the State must: create a society based on social justice and the safeguarding of human rights; ensure equality among ethnic and tribal groups; and achieve democracy.  Afghanistan must fulfil the international conventions and treaties to which it is signatory."  According to the new constitution, the head of state is also head of government and can serve a maximum of two 5-year mandates.

Here are portraits of key presidential candidates:

Hamid Karzai

This Pashtun leader is currently Afghanistan's interim president and is favoured to win the presidency.  He is 46 years old, educated in the West, and hails from the Taliban stronghold of Kandhar.  He is backed by the U.S. and by former Afghan president Burhanuddin Rabbani of the Islamic Society Jamiat-i-Islami, a leading party in Afghanistan.  His programme is based on three main points -- security, infrastructure and economic development -- and is geared toward the private sector.  Another of the provisional president's key objectives is the fight against "warlords" (local grandees at the head of private militia who are opposing the country's normalization).  According to analysts, Karzai could win on the first round of ballots, making a run-off unnecessary.  In the last few days, the electoral commission has asked 5 local broadcasters to cut back on the excessive air time being afforded to Karzai's campaigning, at the expense of other candidates.  A recent survey revealed that, since the campaign began last September, the interim president dominated 75% of State media coverage.


Abdul Rashid Dostum

This Uzbek former-general is Karzai's main opponent.  He has fought in many wars and can count on the votes of many faithful Uzbeks, from the north of the country.  His career has been characterized by controversial alliances.  In the past 30 years, he has fought alongside and against Soviet troops, backed the Taliban and eventually sided against them with the Northern Alliance.

Yunus Qanuni

A former education minister, Qanuni is a top member of the Northern Alliance that helped the U.S. overthrow the Taliban 3 years ago.  He can count on the support of the Tajiks of his native Panjshir region (north of Kabul), but does not enjoy nationwide support.

Mohammed Mohaqiq

He leads the Hazaras ethnic minority.  Like most other candidates, he is running as an independent.  Mohaqiq is backed by the numerous Hazaras living as refugees in Iran and Pakistan

Massouda Jalal

She is the only female candidate among presidential elections.  Jalal is a pediatrician and hails from Kabul.  She is considered the favourite among female voters who make up 43% of total voters.

Ahmad Shah Admadzai

Former prime minister and ally of mujahideen leader, Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, he is an ethnic-Pashtun engineer.  He is part of the religious right wing.  He has support in the southern and eastern regions of the country, where anti-American sentiment is strongest.

Sayed Ishaq Gailani

Another Pashtun, Gailani comes from one of Afghanistan's most influential religious families.  He has been a strong monarchist and critic of the US presence in Afghanistan and of Karzai's work.

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