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Provincial and presidential elections were held on August 20, 2009, despite calls by the Taliban to boycott the elections and the militia's attendant threats to harm those who cast votes. Violence spiked in the days leading up to the elections.

More than 30 candidates challenged incumbent Karzai, with Abdullah Abdullah as the most formidable contender. Abdullah, who served under Karzai as minister of foreign affairs until 2006, ran as head of the United National Front opposition alliance.

Early results put Karzai well ahead of Abdullah, but allegations of widespread and blatant fraud surfaced immediately. In September, the United Nations-backed Electoral Complaints Commission announced it had "clear and convincing evidence of fraud" and called for a partial recount.

Complaints of fraud were particularly egregious in southern regions of Afghanistan, where Karzai drew most of his support.

Election results released in October indicated that Karzai came up short in garnering 50% of the vote and a second-round election was necessary. Karzai agreed to participate in a runoff against his main rival, Abdullah Abdullah.

About a week before the Nov. 7 second-round election, Abdullah withdrew from the race in protest of the Karzai administration's refusal to dismiss election officials accused of taking part in the widespread fraud that marred the first round of the election. Karzai was declared the winner on Nov. 5 and began his second five-year term as president.

A smooth election was seen as vital for continued support of the U.S.-backed war in Afghanistan. During the election turmoil, President Obama's plan to send additional troops to Afghanistan began drawing opposition from critics who said the operation was veering away from the original mission to fight terrorism and toward nation building and who questioned Afghanistan's ability and commitment to improve security and stabilize its government.

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