Who is up for election?
The election is for presidential candidates. There will be a separate parliamentary vote in 2010. There are 41 confirmed candidates, of whom the most prominent is incumbent Hamid Karzai. His main competitor is Abdullah Abdullah, previously Afghanistan's foreign minister and a former war hero in the Northern Alliance, who has tried to stylize himself as the Afghan Obama. Many of the other candidates are also former government ministers under Karzai, including ex-Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai. If no one achieves a 50 percent majority, a run-off election will be held within two weeks.
What are the main issues?
The topics that most concern Afghan voters are poverty, the lack of economic opportunity, security and corruption. Karzai is essentially telling the electorate that Afghanistan is on the right track and that the seldom-reported progress his government has made gets obscured by bad news. One of Abdullah's main focuses is resolving the Taliban insurgency by making peace with all of those willing to lay down their arms. Ghani has been extremely critical of corruption and nepotism within the Karzai government and has proposed a host of initiatives aimed at bettering the economic prospects of ordinary Afghans.
Who does the West want to win?
Karzai was the darling of the West, and in particular of the United States, when he was appointed Interim President of Afghanistan in 2001. But he has fallen somewhat out of favour since then, with some Western leaders coming to see him as an ineffective and corrupt leader. Both Adbullah and Ghani are respected abroad, and a further candidate who is actually a US citizen, former Afghan Interior Minister Ali Ahmad Jalali, is often said to enjoy strong support in Washington.
How big of a concern is security?
Ahead of Afghanistan's first presidential elections in 2004, there were worries about massive violence, which then failed to materialize. Ahead of August's elections, the Taliban - which has called for Afghans to boycott the poll and has threatened to disrupt the proceedings - has stepped up attacks on Afghan and Western targets. There have been reports that Taliban insurgents are trying to leave their stronghold areas in the south of the country and infiltrate more peaceful reasons. And even if the Taliban don't succeed in launching a series of high-profile attacks with lots of casualties, observers worry that fear of violence may keep many voters, particularly in the south, away form polling stations and thereby undermine the election results.
Author: Jefferson Chase
Editor: Rob Mudge