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Page last updated at 12:05 GMT, Wednesday, 21 October 2009 13:05 UK

Afghan run-off faces huge challenges

Afghan campaign poster
There seems to be trepidation in Afghanistan ahead of a presidential run-off

The announcement that the second round of Afghanistan's presidential elections will take place on 7 November has presented the country - and the international community - with a huge logistical challenge.

The government and the UN now have just over two weeks to prepare for the vote.

That organisational task would tax many Western democracies, let alone a developing country wracked by insurgency.

The BBC looks at a number of the different obstacles standing in the way of a free and fair vote this time around.

BALLOT BOX FRAUD

A UN investigation found evidence of vote-rigging on a massive scale in the August election and there is concern that similar manipulation could take place in November.

Ballot boxes after Afghanistan's election in August
Election officials will have to reprise their earlier efforts

The scale of the problem earlier this year was enormous: allegations of fraud first appeared before the vote took place and reached a crescendo on polling day itself with thousands of allegations of stuffed ballot boxes and voter intimidation.

The signs that November's vote will be better monitored do not look rosy: The UN has called for half the top officials involved in the flawed vote to be sacked, although correspondents say that is unlikely to happen.

The European Union, meanwhile, has warned that it will be unable to get its observers to Afghanistan on time for the 7 November vote.

But not everyone is so pessimistic. Mr Abdullah told the the BBC on Tuesday that while there would be constraints because of fraud, "lessons had been learnt from the last vote" and there was now an urgent need to agree on measures to tackle the problem.

"I think the Afghan people witnessed fraud, but they have now learnt that it has been corrected and they will be given a another chance - and that will be appreciated."

Questions have also been raised about the impartiality of Afghan institutions overseeing the vote.

"The electoral commission is not independent because it has all been appointed by President Karzai," former EU Afghan Envoy Francesc Vendrell told the BBC.

DETERIORATING SECURITY AND VOTER INTIMIDATION

The first vote, on 20 August, saw the highest number of attacks in Afghanistan since 2001.

US troops in Afghanistan
Western troops will again have to risk their lives for a free vote

The BBC's Martin Patience, in Kabul, says insurgents will be determined to disrupt a second round of voting through attacks or intimidation, something they did successfully during the first round.

Almost all the problems are based in the country's ethnic Pashtun areas, where the insurgency is at its strongest. In many of those areas, it was too dangerous to send monitors to oversee the first vote.

Coalition troops played a vital role in providing security in the first round and they will have to do it again.

"I think that the Taliban will probably attempt a major attack against a polling station during the course of the elections," Col Richard Kemp, a former British commander in Afghanistan, told the BBC.

"They tried to do that last time and they didn't succeed then... and I have every confidence that our forces, the US forces and the Afghan National Army will be doing everything in their power to prevent that from happening."

The scale of the problem is daunting. Voting in the first round in areas of Helmand province - where British troops are active against the Taliban - was almost non-existent.

In Nad Ali, for example, with a population of 60,000 people, only 600 people voted. In Kajaki, with a population of 55,000 people, only 300 are thought to have turned out. The same picture was seen in Babaji, scene of the fiercest fighting, where just 150 people out of a population of 55,000 are thought to have voted.

VOTER APATHY

Taliban intimidation, together with attacks on polling stations, meant that in much of Afghanistan it took real courage to vote in August. Few want to go through it all again.

Afghan voters
Many Afghans think that the outcome of the vote is pre-determined

Correspondents say that large-scale apathy stems from the widely-held belief across Afghanistan that foreigners in general and Americans in particular decide who wins the election.

The focus of the last vote seemed to be not so much on getting the support of individual voters, but the backing of men who could supposedly deliver blocks of votes.

Critics say that the sense of apathy is strengthened because there is a perception in Afghanistan that everything - from money, to the use of state machinery, to violence and intimidation, to registering phantom voters - has already been pre-determined.

BAD WEATHER

In a country with such poor communications, organising a nationwide election in the summer was hard enough. By 7 November, though, winter will be closing in and much of the country could be snowbound.

UK security analyst Gordon Mackenzie said the date was almost as late as it would be possible to hold an election in Afghanistan.

"After that some of the passes start to be snowed up, some of the roads start to become unworkable and it becomes very difficult for the infrastructure to cope."



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