Campaigning in Afghanistan Involves Bribes, Gangland Politics and Murder

VIDEO: Despite Taliban, more women are putting their lives on the line for Afghanistan.
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This city of pine trees and traffic lights is one of the safest in Afghanistan, where the fear and anxiety that dominates most of this country barely exists. But even here, Saturday's parliamentary election has been fought violently and brutally, not only with candidates' workers killed and female candidates threatened, but also with village-sized bribes, gangland-style politicking, and interference from neighboring countries.

The United Nations recently pointed out that Afghanistan "isn't Switzerland" and shouldn't be held to the same standards. But American and Afghan officials here fear the risks of this election might outweigh the possible benefits.

VIDEO: Despite Taliban, more women are putting their lives on the line for Afghanistan.
Afghan Women Campaign Despite Kidnappings

Already, the intimidation has created a kind of cage-fighting primary that has forced some candidates out. And election observers predict that after the vote, a massive number of complaints and razor-thin election margins will overwhelm the fragile fraud oversight board, challenging the legitimacy of the results.

"If Afghans do not see this election as legitimate, then they will never trust the democratic process again," Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, a leading member of an opposition party, said.

A record number of women are running this year, but ask Fauzia Gialani if that's translated into a more permissive atmosphere. Perhaps more than any other candidate, this election season has been terrorizing. Five of her campaign workers were kidnapped. She was called and told to drop her campaign, and then called for a trade: release five militants in exchange for her workers. When she didn't give in to either request, the five were lined up, hands bound, and executed.

Some of the violence across the country is clearly the work of insurgents, who have distributed night letters threatening anyone who votes or participates in the election, in which every parliament seat is up for grabs. But candidates and Western observers also believe the violence is candidate-on-candidate. In Gialani's case, Western officials wonder aloud whether the family of her estranged husband – also a candidate in Herat – ordered the hit.

Either way, a lack of law and order in many districts across the country has allowed whoever is behind the violence to create an even more deadly climate than last year's presidential election. This year at least 23 candidates or their aides have been killed, according to Afghan observers.

Gialani welcomed an ABC News team to witness two days of meetings and politicking. She attends a few small campaign events, but all are inside because it is too dangerous for her to hold open air rallies. She travels in a pick-up truck with four gunmen in the back. She drives quickly between her office and her home. There are no unscheduled "retail" events. As an aside to one visitor, she says she will see him in a couple of weeks, "If I make it that far." She is constantly accused of being, in effect, a prostitute.

Afghan Elections Endanger Candidates and Their Families

The violence and the accusations have taken a clear toll on her and her family.

"Every day I receive threatening calls saying you have converted to Christianity, or you and your brothers have become infidels. My whole family is suffering, and it's not safe for any of them to leave the house," she told ABC News in her living room earlier this week.

"I don't feel safe," she continues. "I always have guards with me and I wouldn't dare leave the city to campaign."

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