KABUL (Reuters) - Afghanistan goes to the polls on August 20 for presidential and provincial elections against a backdrop of increased violence by the Taliban.
President Hamid Karzai is favorite to win against 35 challengers, but unless he secures more than 50 percent of the vote in the first round he faces a run-off against the second placed candidate.
Here are some facts and figures about the election.
The Afghan Independent Election Commission (IEC) estimates there are around 15 million eligible voters out of a population of around 33 million. About 4.5 million new voters registered this year, but those from previous years are still valid.
The electoral commission has sought clearance to open nearly 7,000 voting stations, but has not yet finalized a list because of security considerations.
There are now 36 candidates in the presidential race out of 41 originally registered, including two women.
Polls suggest incumbent President Hamid Karzai is in the lead, although not by enough to avoid a second round against former Foreign Minister Dr. Abdullah Abdullah. Former Planning Minister Ramazan Bashardost and former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani are the only other candidates expected to get more than 2 percent of the vote.
Elections for provincial councils are also being held simultaneously, with more than 3,000 candidates vying for seats, about 10 percent of them women.
Preliminary results will be announced on September 3 and final results two weeks later. If no candidate wins more than 50 percent of all votes in the first round, the run off will be held between the top two, provisionally set for October 1.
Taliban insurgents have vowed to disrupt the elections and warned Afghans not to vote. There are more than 100,000 Western troops in the country, including 62,000 Americans, who will mostly operating outside towns and villages on election day. Afghanistan’s own forces of about 80,000 soldiers and 80,000 police are responsible for security in populated areas.
To a greater degree than ever, the election is being run by Afghanistan’s own election commission, with donors giving some $220 million to pay for it. Several international groups have sent monitors, with the European Union fielding a large mission.
* Afghanistan is one of the poorest countries in the world and has suffered three decades of war. Only about a third of Afghans are literate.
* In some areas roads are so bad that ballot boxes have to be delivered by helicopter and donkey.
* Taliban militants, stronger than at any time since they were driven from power eight years ago, have vowed to disrupt the election.
* Long distances, weak institutions and poor security may make it difficult to prevent fraud and abuse.
Reporting by Hamid Shalizi; Editing by David Fox