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Afghan vote campaign begins amid violence

Kabul - Campaigning for the presidential elections in Afghanistan has begun, stained by the deaths of two aides for the front-runner in a gun attack.

The men, working for for Doctor Abdullah Abdullah, were killed in the Western province of Herat.

The attack follows an attempted assassination last month on Mohammad Ismail Khan, a vice presidential candidate for Abdul Rasul Sayyaf and former water and energy minister. 

In Kabul on Sunday, billboards began appearing as the candidates prepared their first campaign conferences.

Sediq Sediqqi, an interior ministry spokesman, said in a tweet that the Afghan National Police was "proud to be part of these historic moments and will do everything to ensure security" as the April 5 polls near.

The spring elections mark the first time in 13 years that Hamid Karzai, the incumbent, will not be on the ballots.

The 11 candidates, whittled down from 27 in late October, include former ministers, governors, leading political opposition figures and even an ex-royal.

Posters and billboards 

 
Afghan vote campaign begins

In the early morning hours residents of Kabul awoke to the sight of posters and billboards of the leading candidates that have already come to dot the city. In Shahr-e Now, the capital’s business district, a billboard of Doctor Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, the ex-finance minister considered to be in a tight race with Abdullah, was erected near the historic Cinema Park. 

At Abdullah's gathering at a wedding hall in Kabul, an argument erupted between rival political parties Hezb-e Islami, from which his first vice presidential pick hails, and Hezb-e Wahdat, the party of his second vice presidential pick.

Supporters of Hezb-e Islami walked out saying "Allahu Akbar" [God is great] at the start of mixed-gender musical performance featuring Hezb-e Wahdat allegiant performers.

The armed wings of Hezb-e Wahdat and Hezb-e Islami were two of the key players in the civil war of the 1990s, which is blamed for the destruction of Kabul. 

In the diplomatic quarter of Wazir Akbar Khan, a billboard for Abdullah’s campaign read “a friend to God and a friend to the people”. 

Smaller posters for Zalmai Rassoul, ex-foreign minister, and Gol Agha Sherzai, who had served as the governor of Nangarhar and Kandahar provinces, were spotted in the Qalai Faetullah and Shirpor neighbourhoods.

If seen through to the end, the 2014 polls will be the first peaceful, democratic transition of power in contemporary Afghan history.

The 2009 polls, which came down to a runoff between Abdullah and Karzai, were marred by accusations of rampant corruption on all sides. In November 2009, Abdullah bowed out of the runoff saying he had little faith in a fair election following accusations of fraud in the first round.

Past experiences

Along with the last presidential polls, the uncertain fate of a Bilateral Security Agreement with the United States, which will stipulate the guidelines for any US forces remaining beyond the planned December international troop withdrawal, have been cited as factors for taking part in the polls by Afghans speaking to Al Jazeera.

Abdul Bashir, from the north-eastern province of Kapisa, said though he will cast a ballot in the April 5 polls, the disappointment of five years ago will be difficult to forget.

"I voted for Abdullah, the rightful winner, but because of fraud and corruption Karzai was declared the winner," Abdul Bashir said.

Of the BSA, Abdul Bashir told Al Jazeera any security implications of further delaying the pact’s signing will have an affect on the vote.

"If there is insecurity I will likely still vote, but I won’t let my family [vote]."

The Taliban, Afghanistan’s largest armed opposition movement, has repeatedly released statements disavowing the elections and threatening to attack election sites and officials.

For Mohammad Hasanzadeh, a real estate agent, the current array of candidates inspires little interest.

"Who are they? They are a random selection," Hasanzadeh said.

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