Photo Essay

  • Election workers count a stack of votes for presidential candidate Ashraf Ghani, whose count dramatically surpassed the other candidates at a polling station at Paktiyakot High School in eastern Kabul Afghanistan, April 5, 2014.
  • An Afghan National Police truck arrives outside a polling station at Paktiyakot High School in eastern Kabul Afghanistan, April 5, 2014.
  • Election workers count a stack of votes for presidential candidate Ashraf Ghani, whose count dramatically surpassed the other candidates at a polling station at Paktiyakot High School in eastern Kabul Afghanistan, April 5, 2014.  Fraud is a real concern in much of the country and scores of observers from the campaigns fanned out to sites to observe the count.
  • Abdul Sami fills out his ballot at a polling station in Mirbacha Kot, about 30 km from the capital, in Kabul, Afghanistan, April 5, 2014.
  • Afghan voters line up to cast their ballots at Zargona High School in Kabul, Afghanistan, April 5, 2014.
  • An Afghan woman shows her voting card as female election observers look on at a polling station Zargona High School in Kabul, Afghanistan, April 5, 2014.
  • Afghan voters hold onto their ballots before voting at a polling station at a primary school in Mir Bacha Kot, about 30 km from the capital, in Kabul, Afghanistan, April 5, 2014.
  • Afghan voters cast their ballots at polling station in Mirbacha Kot, about 30 km from the capital, in Kabul, Afghanistan, April 5, 2014.
  • Afghan National Policeman Noor Ahmad Mobariz provides security at a gate as voters arrive to cast their ballots at Zargona High School in Kabul, Afghanistan, April 5, 2014.
  • Supporters throw rose petals at a close of campaign rally for presidential candidate Ashraf Ghani in Kabul City, Afghanistan, on April 2, 2014.
  • Supporters attend a close of campaign rally for presidential candidate Ashraf Ghani in Kabul City, Afghanistan, on April 2, 2014.
  • A campaign worker stands on stage at a close of campaign rally for presidential candidate Ashraf Ghani in Kabul City, Afghanistan, Wednesday, April 2, 2014.
  • Members of the Afghan National Directorate of Security guard a convoy after a rally for presidential candidate Ashraf Ghani at a stadium in Kabul City, Afghanistan, Tuesday, April 1, 2014.
  • Supporters attend a rally for presidential candidate Ashraf Ghani at a stadium in Kabul City, Afghanistan, on April 1, 2014.
  • A woman leaves a rally for presidential candidate Ashraf Ghani at a stadium in Kabul City, Afghanistan, Tuesday, April 1, 2014.
  • A supporter rests on the shoulder of another at a rally for presidential candidate Ashraf Ghani at a stadium in Kabul City, Afghanistan, Tuesday, April 1, 2014.
  • Supporters attend a rally for presidential candidate Ashraf Ghani at a stadium in Kabul City, Afghanistan, Tuesday, April 1, 2014.
  • Women leave a rally for presidential candidate Ashraf Ghani at a stadium in Kabul City, Afghanistan, on April 1, 2014.
  • Security forces guard a convoy after a rally for presidential candidate Zalmai Rassool at a stadium in Khost City, Afghanistan, Monday, March 31, 2014.
  • Gates have fallen into disrepair at former US base FOB Salerno as presidential candidate Zalmai Rassool arrives for a campaign stop in Khost City, Afghanistan, on March 31, 2014.
  • Presidential candidate Zalmai Rassool greets supporters at former US base FOB Salerno in Khost City, Afghanistan, on March 31, 2014.
  • Women leave a rally for presidential candidate Zalmai Rassool at a stadium in Khost City, Afghanistan, on March 31, 2014.
  • Supporters attend a rally for presidential candidate Zalmai Rassool at a stadium in Khost City, Afghanistan, on March 31, 2014.
  • Security forces escort Afghan presidential candidate Dr. Abdullah Abdullah to a house from a rally in Kandahar, Afghanistan, on March 30, 2014.
  • Supporters wait to speak with Afghan presidential candidate Dr. Abdullah Abdullah at a meeting between the candidate and supporters after a rally in Kandahar, Afghanistan, on March 30, 2014.
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Afghans kick off historic election

Updated

Afghans go to the polls Saturday to pick a new leader, as President Hamid Karzai prepares to step down. With ongoing violence likely to deter many would-be voters and massive fraud a major threat, the election underlines—13 years after the U.S. toppled the Taliban—just how far the country remains from being a stable and well-functioning democracy.

Still, by all indications Afghans are eager to participate in the $100-million, western-funded contest, in which 11 candidates, representing a wide range of positions and interests, are competing. Three in four respondents to a recent survey said they want to cast a ballot. Campaign posters dot the walls of buildings in cities and villages across the country, witnesses report, rallies are well attended, and the news media features heavy campaign coverage. The election might not meet western standards for democracy. But in a country where large areas remain under Taliban control, and the threat of full-scale civil war always looms, a peaceful transition of power that’s broadly accepted by Afghans would mark an important milestone.

Photographer Victor Blue captured some of the candidates as well as ordinary Afghans in the run-up to the election, and spoke to them about their hopes for a more peaceful and prosperous future.

 For more feature photography, go to msnbc.com/photography