Afghan Elections 2009: HuffPost's Guide (PHOTOS, VIDEO)

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As Afghanistan holds national elections for the presidency and provincial council, the HuffPost has put together this resource guide to voting day and what it all means.

This guide will be constantly updated as more information becomes available so check back for the latest Afghan election news.

UPDATE: August 21: Incumbent President Hamid Karzai and rival candidate Abdullah Abdullah are both claiming victory in the elections.

Pajhwok Afghan News reports that unofficial results indicate that the two candidates are tied in a dead heat across a dozen polling stations.

Abdullah told Al Jazeera that from his persective the elections went quite well, despite the relatively low turnout.

See the Al Jazeera interview here:

The Independent Election Commission said it was too early for any campaign to claim itself the winner.

While counting at individual polling stations has been completed, the votes are now being sent to Kabul and preliminary results won't be made public before Tuesday.

Karzai's campaign spokesman Waheen Omar said they remained confident of winning in the first round.

FROM AUGUST 20

Polling

U.S. President Obama said that the elections were a success, despite the Taliban's attempts to disrupt them, Reuters reports.

The White House said Afghans had turned out to vote in large numbers despite threats of violence, and U.S. policy in the 8-year-old war would not change in the aftermath of Afghanistan's presidential election.

"We had what appears to be a successful election in Afghanistan, despite the Taliban's efforts to disrupt it," Obama told a radio talk show host in a live broadcast from the White House.

Votes are being counted in Afghanistan after polls closed an hour later than originally planned to encourage a greater turnout, writes the BBC. Counting has begun but a result is not expected for several days. Afghans voted in spite of the threat of violence.

26 people have been killed in election day violence.

Security officials have said that eight Afghan soldiers, nine police and nine civilians were killed in a number of separate attacks.

The UN said that despite the attacks, the majority of polling stations were able to function properly, says the BBC.

NATO pronounced the elections a success as far as security was concerned but has called for a doubling of Afghan forces to allow coalition troops to withdraw, Reuters reports.

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said that Afghan troops and police numbers should be increased to about 400,000.

Meanwhile, Major General Douglas Stone has presented a report recommending that the U.S. abandon its detention program in Afghansitan within 12 to 18 months and that up to 400 of 600 inmates held at Bagram prison should be released because they pose no threat, AFP reports.

IRIN reports on the mixed reactions of Afghans to polling, with some people saying they were determined to vote and look towards peace and stability, while other people said the Taliban threats had deterred them.

Candidate Ashraf Ghani tweeted about voter intimidation at a polling station and said voters were being forced to vote for rival candidate Abdullah.

Early polling reports suggest that turnout was uneven across the country, writes the New York Times.

A top election official told AP that an estimated 40 to 50 per cent voted, a 20 per cent fall since the 2004 elections, while an official based in Kandahar thought the turnout could be up to 40 per cent less than in 2004.

Karzai, dressed in his traditional purple-and-green-striped robe, voted at a Kabul high school, holding up his inked finger for the cameras. A rare photo of Karzai's wife casting her vote was also released to the public, writes AP.

The Afghan people braved "rockets, bombs and intimidation and came out to vote. We'll see what the turnout was, but they came out to vote. That is great," Karzai said.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said the uneven turnout would not alter U.S. police regarding Afghanistan "to disrupt and ultimately defeat al-Qaida and its terrorist allies."

See CFR's coverage of the war in Afghanistan here.

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The Candidates

41 candidates registered to run for the elections, including current President Hamid Karzai and two female candidates.

The incumbent for these elections, Hamid Karzai won the 2004 presidential election. Karzai, who attended university in India, served as the country's interim leader after the removal of the Taliban from power. A shrewd politician, Karzai is believed to have brokered political deals with a range of warlords in exchange for votes. Some Afghans are critical, and suspicious, of his relationship with the U.S. Karzai stands as current favorite for the post, but polls have warned he may need to 'pad' his legitimate vote by quite a margin if he is to be re-elected in the first round.

United National Front candidate Dr Abdullah Abdullah currently stands as the second favorite to win in the elections. Abdullah was the spokesperson for the Islamic State of Afghanistan in 1995 and as a member of the Northern Alliance, served as the Foreign Minister in exile during Taliban rule. He held the same position in Karzai's government until 2006, and has spent much of his campaign criticizing Karzai and promising to tackle corruption and insurgents.

Two women are among the candidates running for the presidency, Shahla Atta and Frozan Fana.

One of the difficulties the women have come across during their campaigns is the belief held by many Afghans that a woman should not show her face to non-family members. Atta, a lawmaker, says she believes women can help reform a male-dominated political system, but admitted that women were soft targets for Taliban and anti-government elements. Fana, an orthopaedic surgeon, says her medical work has made her want to help more Afghans who are in need of care.

Dr Ramazan Bashardost, running as an independent candidate, is currently a member of the National Assembly of Afghanistan.

Read the BBC's profiles for top candidates here.

While Afghan rule has traditionally been a top-down arrangement, Time reports that many young Afghans may have developed a different attitude after seeing or reading about governments that are accountable to the electorate.

18-year-old Noorjahan Akbar told Newsweek that she believes candidate Ashraf Ghani can bring political change and equality to Afghanistan.

Pre-Election Violence

An escalation of Taliban attacks last summer led to fears that the elections would be postponed. The election date was moved from May 2009 to August 20 due to security issues.

Watch this Al Jazeera report from 2008:

In the weeks leading up to the elections, Taliban insurgents, who are boycotting the elections, have been targeting election campaigners and have threatened to attack people who turn up to vote.

Coalition forces have been stepping up security measures in preparation for the elections.

Watch this Al Jazeera footage of U.S. soldiers on a patrol:

Journalists have been barred from reporting on election violence for fear it will deter voters, but many have refused to comply with the ban and are continuing to cover the attacks.

Polling Fraud Controversy

Reports have emerged warning that incumbent Afghan President Hamid Karzai is planning to commit widespread election fraud in liaison with his warlord allies. His scheme is alleged to cover a large amount of votes.

Notorious warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum returned to Afghanistan from Turkey in the days ahead of polling in what was seen as an act of support for Karzai.

Reuters reports that Dostum has denied making any deal with Karzai.

Meanwhile, millions of women may be prevented from voting due to serious shortages of female polling station staff. Men and women are segregated for voting and the staff shortage could undermine the legitimacy of the elections.

The Free and Fair Election Foundation of Afghanistan recently published a report concerning their investigations of campaign fraud. The report highlighted problems regarding the participation of government officials in campaign activities and the disparities in freedom of movement afforded to male and female candidates. Social and cultural issues affected their ability to travel and campaign.

Outside Perspectives

CFR reports that Pakistan has a decided interest in the Afghan elections as a stable government would reduce the threats that an unstable Afghanistan has brought to Pakistan. However, Pakistan is likely to want to exert some influence over the country and has had a good relationship with Karzai to date.

CFR also writes that Afghanistan's stability could be threatened by the continuing power struggle between India and Pakistan.

The U.S. will be watching results closely as Obama hopes for a "new phase" in U.S.-Afghan relations after the elections.

British people have become increasingly unhappy with Britain's involvement in Afghanistan, as increasing numbers of soldiers have been killed in the war. British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said that Britain would continue its Afghan operations despite rising unpopularity at home, and said that Britain hoped for a legitimate election.

Election Logistics And Donkeys

Over 3,000 donkeys were recruited to help deliver polling boxes and election material to stations around the country.

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