The leading contenders are incumbent President Ashraf Ghani and his partner in the five-year-old unity government, Abdullah Abdullah, who already alleges power abuse by his opponent.
Fear and frustration at the relentless corruption that has characterized successive governments ranks high among the concerns of Afghanistan’s 9.6 million eligible voters.
Tens of thousands of police, intelligence officials and Afghan National Army personnel have been deployed throughout the country to protect the 4,942 election centers. Authorities said 431 polling centers will stay closed because it was impossible to guarantee their security since they were either in areas under Taliban control or where insurgents could threaten nearby villages.
In Kabul traffic was light, with police and the army scattered throughout the city, stopping cars and looking for anything out of the ordinary. The Taliban said they would take particular aim at Afghanistan’s cities.
Outfitted in bullet-proof vests, their rifles by their side, soldiers slowed traffic to a crawl as they searched vehicles. Larger vehicles were not being allowed into the capital on Saturday, which is a usual working day but for the elections was declared a holiday.
Neighbour Pakistan, routinely accused of aiding insurgents, announced it was closing its borders with Afghanistan Saturday and Sunday to further protect security in the war-weary country.
Campaigning for Saturday’s elections was subdued and went into high gear barely two weeks ahead of the polls as most of the 18 presidential candidates expected a deal between the United States and the Taliban to delay the vote. But on September 7, President Donald Trump declared a deal that seemed imminent dead after violent attacks in Kabul killed 12 people, including two US-led coalition soldiers, one of whom was American.
While many of the presidential candidates withdrew from the election, none formally did so, leaving all 18 candidates on the ballot.
Elections in Afghanistan are notoriously flawed and in the last presidential polls in 2014, allegations of widespread corruption were so massive that the United States intervened to prevent violence. No winner was declared and the US cobbled together the unity government in which Ghani and Abdullah shared equal power – Ghani as president and Abdullah as chief executive, a newly created position.
Constant bickering and infighting within the government frustrated attempts to bring in substantive legislation as security, which has been tenuous, continued to deteriorate, frustrating Afghans and causing many to flee as refugees.
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