Afghanistan's elections: the FAQs

How does Afghanistan's parliamentary election work? Afghans vote in parliamentary elections on Saturday for 249 seats in the country's Wolesi Jirga, or lower house of parliament. Foreign donors have contributed about US$150 million (Dh550m) to pay for the election. What is parliament's role? Parliament approves or rejects legislation proposed by the government, which is formed by the president but subject to the assembly's approval. Afghanistan also has an upper house made up of presidential and provincial appointees, but real power lies with the lower house. Parliament has been increasingly flexing its muscle and has recently blocked President Hamid Karzai's choices for certain cabinet positions.

Who seeks office? Political parties are mostly removed from the process in a system designed to prevent ethnic factionalism. A total of 2,447 candidates, including 386 women, are standing for the 249 Wolesi Jirga seats. The number given to each district depends on population, with Kabul the largest with three million people and 33 seats - nine reserved for women. A total of 664 candidates are registered in the capital alone.

The number of candidates is down slightly from the 2,775 who stood in 2005 although the Independent Election Commission (IEC) says it made an extra effort to persuade women and members of nomadic tribes to run. Ministers and civil servants are not allowed to run while in office. Candidates must have the support of 1,000 registered voters to run. Does parliament have blocs? Members represent dozens of political parties, factions and blocs formed by warlords. Regional strongmen also form ethnic and tribal groups. These blocs are less important when standing for election than when voting on issues in parliament - particularly when it comes to Mr Karzai forming cabinets.

What is the security situation? The IEC says at least 1,019 of 6,835 polling centres will not open because security cannot be guaranteed. The Taliban tried, with limited success, to disrupt the 2005 parliamentary vote and the 2009 presidential vote. They have threatened to disrupt this vote. At least four candidates have been killed. Dozens of campaign workers have also been killed or wounded.

Where are the checks and balances? Fraud marred Mr Karzai's re-election last year and caused a major rift with Washington. Afghanistan's UN-backed Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) threw out a third of votes cast for Mr Karzai as fraudulent. Following the ruckus, Mr Karzai changed the make-up of the commission and it now has three Afghans, an Iraqi and a South African. The United Nations' top envoy in Afghanistan, however, says no ECC decision will be final unless it is ratified by at least one of the two foreign commissioners.

Complaints will have to be registered within three days of the poll, and the ECC has the authority to impose sanctions and penalties if it concludes an offence was committed. * Reuters