(NEW YORK) -- Afghans will go the polls this weekend to elect their first president since U.S.-backed Hamid Karzai was elected after the fall of the Taliban.
Tens of thousands of Afghans have flocked to campaign rallies and waited in enormous lines to register to vote despite Taliban bombs and threats to election workers.
The election also comes after 12 years of war in which America has invested billions of dollars and thousands of killed and maimed U.S. soldiers.
The election is seen as critical for the country's future, as the United States prepares to leave the country later this year.
Here's why it matters so much to them and to the rest of the world:
1) How Will Afghanistan Fare After the U.S. Leaves?
The global community is watching Afghanistan's elections closely to see how the country handles a national election. The United States is set to end its combat mission in Afghanistan later this year, leaving the Afghan police and national security forces to keep the country safe and stable. The winning candidate will help determine if the U.S. will continue to be involved in Afghanistan after the end of the mission.
2) Is Democracy Working in Afghanistan?
The elections on Saturday are only the second time the Afghan people will go to the polls to democratically elect a president since the fall of the Taliban. The first time, in 2009, was fraught with allegations of fraud, violence, and low voter turnout.
This time around, incumbent President Hamid Karzai is ineligible to run again and 11 candidates are vying to be president. Campaign events and rallies have taken place all over the country, including in a stadium where the Taliban once held public executions. The candidates have also participated in multiple debates.
3) Equal Rights
More than 300 women are running for office in Afghanistan this Saturday -- a feat that was unthinkable under Taliban rule. Presidential candidates have been courting female voters for the first time, inviting them to rallies and having their wives give speeches addressing women's rights. One candidate even chose a female vice presidential candidate.
4) Pulling Off a Very Complex Operation
The Afghan government has had to work hard to set up the complex operation that constitutes a national election. It will employ more than 200,000 observers to ensure a fair election and more than 3,000 donkeys to carry ballots from 6,775 polling stations to cities to be counted. There are 12 million registered voters expected to take part. It is the first massively organized operation of its kind in Afghanistan.
5) Persevering Under Threat of Violence
Violence marred the 2009 presidential election, and the country has resolved to ensure secure voting this Saturday under the looming threat of further violence. On Friday, two Western newspaper employees, a reporter and a photographer for the Associated Press, were shot while touring the country as part of a convoy of election workers. Anja Niedringhaus, the Pulitzer Prize winning photographer, was killed, while Kathy Gannon was wounded and is being treated. The shooting by an Afghan policeman yelling "Allahu Akbar" shows how dangerous the election continues to be in Afghanistan.
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