Over 10.5 million Afghans have registered to vote in the first-ever direct presidential election on Saturday, October 9.
This will also be the first time in the country's 5,000-year recorded history that women will not just be allowed to vote, but contest.
Voters -- over 40 percent of them said to be women -- will choose from 18 candidates, including one woman, representing various ethnic groups and political parties. The vote count will take two to three weeks and if no runner secures 50 percent of the votes, the election could drag on through the Muslim month of Ramzan and into November.
Parliamentary elections are expected in spring 2005.
Zakim Shah, head of the election commission, noted objections against three candidates, accused of various abuses and running private militias, but did not reject them. Most of the complaints were against Uzbek warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum, who fought with and against the Soviets, the Taliban and the Northern Alliance, and was one of Afghanistan's most feared men in the early 1990s.
The frontrunner is interim President Hamid Karzai, 46, the Shimla-educated Pashtun leader from Kandahar, once a Taliban stronghold. But though his bid for president is endorsed and funded by Washington, Karzai's writ does not extend beyond the capital Kabul, with the rest of the nation still governed by various feuding warlords.
Text: Ramananda Sengupta
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