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Asia-pacific

Presidential election campaigning kicks off

Video by Gulliver CRAGG

Text by NEWS WIRES

Latest update : 2009-06-17

Campaigning in the second-ever Afghan presidential election has kicked off across the country amid fears of insurgent attacks. The 41 candidates running will try to win over 16 million eligible voters for the August 20 poll.

AFP - Campaigning for Afghanistan's second-ever presidential elections kicked off Tuesday with hundreds of posters hoisted in the capital and candidates setting out to win over voters new to democracy.
  
By contrast, the southern city of Kandahar -- in the heartland of a Taliban insurgency that has reached record levels and threatens the August 20 poll -- remained bare of posters and election spirit, an AFP reporter said.
  
"The reason presidential candidates have not opened their campaign offices could be for security reasons but that will start I think soon," said provincial council member Agha Lalai.
  
In Kabul, a 30-vehicle convoy decorated with posters of deputy parliamentary speaker Mirwais Yasini held up the traffic with loudspeakers blaring out the qualities of the candidate, one of 41 in the running.
  
Supporters of former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah met in the city to hand out posters and banners of their candidate, who was expected to host his first rally on Thursday.
  
Another leading candidate, former finance minister Ashraf Ghani, met around 1,000 people at his home in west Kabul, using a 25-minute address to criticise President Hamid Karzai's nearly eight years in office, an AFP photographer said.
  
With Karzai on a state visit to Russia, his campaign office -- which includes at least two former ministers -- called in media to introduce themselves.
  
The head of the campaign, former provincial governor Din Mohammad, dismissed suggestions that Karzai's popularity had flagged and claimed "no one can deny that Karzai is ahead of all."
  
Karzai won the 2004 election with 55.4 percent and is tipped by observers to have a good chance at the August ballot despite his failure to rein in corruption or the Taliban in his nearly eight years on the job.
  
But a countrywide poll of 1,500 Afghans released in February found that public confidence in the president had plunged from 83 percent in 2005 to 52 percent.
  
Critics have already accused the incumbent of having an unfair advantage because of his position, which gives him access to government and international resources and security as he moves across the fragile country.
  
Independent Election Commission official Daud Ali Najafi told reporters that the president had agreed to halt any government appointments in case they could benefit his campaign.
  
"Other restrictions are, for example, that a candidate cannot use any government facilities during their campaign even if it is the president or anyone else," Najafi said at a briefing to announce the start of campaigning.
  
Election organisers have meanwhile complained that in the field of 41, which includes two women, are several people who should not be on the list as they do not have the qualifications or profile to stand for office.
  
But the vote is seen as a key step in a transition to democracy that is being funded by Afghanistan's international partners who are also bankrolling the elections, expected to cost around 220 million dollars.
  
UN representative in Afghanistan, Kai Eide, called for candidates to "campaign with dignity and fairness."
  
"This is of critical importance to ensure that the elections are credible and that the results are accepted by all," he said.
  
Afghanistan's military allies are meanwhile deploying thousands of troops amid fears that surging violence could keep voters away from the polls and cast doubt on their credibility.
  
Two out of more than 3,200 candidates for provincial council elections, also due on August 20, have been killed in recent weeks, with one of the murders blamed on the Taliban.

Date created : 2009-06-17

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