For Afghans, a New Test of Democracy

By Photos by Nikki Kahn The Washington Post
Monday, August 10, 2009

Afghans will go to the polls Aug. 20 for the nation's second presidential election since the fall of the Taliban in 2001. The campaign is taking place against a backdrop of heightened violence due to an invigorated Taliban insurgency and of widespread disillusionment with the Afghan government and the U.S.-led foreign troop presence. The Obama administration is counting on a relatively smooth election to help turn around a flagging war effort. But the Taliban has called for a boycott and has directed its fighters to disrupt the vote. Although President Hamid Karzai is favored to win, he could face trouble securing a majority in a field of 41 candidates. Karzai's two main challengers are former allies: his onetime foreign minister, Abdullah Abdullah, and his former finance minister, Ashraf Ghani. The United States has remained publicly neutral, but American officials have not hidden their irritation with Karzai, whose government faces allegations of corruption and incompetence.

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