The Decision

Counting Down to Afghanistan’s Presidential Election (Photos)

Taliban attacks have rocked the country, but on Saturday Afghans will pick their first new president since Hamid Karzai took office in 2001. A look at the final days before the vote.

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Your Guide To Afghanistan’s Presidential Election

Saturday's presidential elections in Afghanistan mark a pivotal moment for the country. The current president, Hamid Karzai, came to power after the American invasion in 2001. Karzai will end his 12 years in office just months before the U.S. withdraws most, if not all, troops from the country, ending America's longest war. As Afghans prepare to cast their votes, the Taliban has launched a bloody new offensive targeting foreigners, polling places, and Afghan officials in Kabul.

Eleven candidates now compete against each other and the violence aimed at undermining the election, to become Afghanistan's next president and shape their country's future.

Here's your guide to the leading candidates, along with scenes from the tense days before the election.

At left, Abdul Rasul Sayaf, a hardline Islamist and former mujahideen leader, is surrounded by his supporters in the western Afghan city of Herat on March 25, 2014. 

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Abdullah Abdullah

Front runner Abdullah Abdullah (in gray), sitting atop a vehicle. The urbane ophthalmologist fought against the Taliban with the Northern Alliance and was once a close ally of Hamid Karzai—before becoming a critic and opponent. Abdullah is considered one of the most liberal candidates and has signaled his interest in signing an agreement to keep U.S. and forces in Afghanistan after 2014.

 

 

Mohammad Ismail/Reuters

Ashraf Ghani

Ashraf Ghani is pictured in the banner behind two Afghan policemen. After years living in the West and working for the World Bank, Ghani returned to Afghanistan when the Taliban fell in 2001 and was appointed finance minister by President Karzai. Like Abdullah Abdullah and candidate Zalmai Rassoul, Ghani has tried to appeal to women voters. "If a woman is poor, it affects the next five generations. If a woman is educated, it also affects the next five generations," Ghani said during the presidential debates.

The police presence pictured in the photo is a sign of the increased security ahead of the elections.

Zohra Bensemra/Reuters

Zalmai Rassoul

Zalmai Rassoul, who was educated and received a medical degree in France, was a close confidant of Hamid Karzai's and is considered the establishment candidate. Rassoul formerly served as a foreign minister under Karzai. Rassoul is considered a moderate and has selected one of the only three women on the ballot for one of his vice-president positions. 

 

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Habiba Sarabi

Vice-presidential candidate Habiba Sarabi, running mate of Zalmai Rassoul, shakes the hand of a supporter as she arrives to a campaign rally in Kabul on March 17, 2014. Sarabi is one of only three women in the race. The presence of a woman on the ballot is a powerful message, but it is unclear if she will be able to draw a significant turnout from women, who represent a third of eligible voters in the deeply religious and conservative country.

Behrouz Mehri/AFP/Getty

Election Workers Searched

An Afghan policeman searches election workers before they loaded electoral boxes onto trucks for transportation to polling centers in the northwestern city of Herat on April 3, 2014.

Farshad Usyan/AFP/Getty

Election Material

An election worker stands on a stack of plastic boxes containing election material at a Mazar-i-Sharif warehouse. The fliers were sent to polling stations around Balkh province in northern Afghanistan on April 1, 2014.

 

 

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Getting the Voter ID Card

An election official takes a picture of a resident of the northwestern city of Herat on March 31, 2014. Crowds queued up outside voter-registration centers and presidential candidates held large outdoor rallies for supporters five days ahead of elections that have been shaken by Taliban attacks. 

Zohra Bensemra/Reuters

Waiting to Register

An Afghan boy cries as his mother waits to receive her voter card at a voter registration centre in Kabul on March 30, 2014. 

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Rassoul Supporters

Supporters of Afghan presidential candidate Zalmai Rassoul arrive for an election campaign in Bagram on April 1, 2014.

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Campaign Rally

Afghan youths cheer during a campaign rally for presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah in the northwestern city of Herat on April 1, 2014.

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Rally for Rassoul

Afghan men listen to presidential candidate Zalmai Rassoul at a political rally in Bamiyan on April 1, 2014.

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Abdullah Abdullah Campaigns

Afghan presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah gestures during an election campaign in Panjshir province on March 31, 2014.