Kabul: Afghan officials on Tuesday disqualified more than half of the candidates who registered for the 2014 presidential election, marking a chaotic opening stage in the country`s first democratic transfer of power.
"Out of the 26 candidates who had officially filed to the IEC, after checking documents, 10 made it to the election," Independent Election Commission chief Yousof Nooristani told reporters.
All the major names remained in the April 5 vote, which is seen as a key test of Afghanistan`s progress as the US-led NATO military coalition pulls out after 13 years of fighting the Taliban insurgency.
President Hamid Karzai, who must step down after serving two terms, has called for just two or three candidates to avoid the confusion of the fraud-riddled 2009 vote, when 40 names appeared on the ballot paper.
But a last-minute rush of candidates signed up in the closing hours of the nomination period on October 6, after weeks of negotiations had failed to form any significant coalitions.
Presidential hopefuls must be aged at least 40, have a clean criminal record, provide 100,000 voter cards to prove they have a network of supporters, and lodge a deposit of one million Afghanis (USD 18,000).
The constitution also decrees that all candidates must be Muslim, born of Afghan parents and not a citizen of another country.
The criteria were tightened after the 2009 election to try to reduce the size of the field.
"Those who couldn`t make it had several problems, they could not fulfil the requirements set for them in election law, including not having enough voter signatures from all provinces or some of their forms were not complete," Nooristani said.
Among the leading candidates still in the race are former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah, the president`s low-profile elder brother Qayum Karzai, and former finance minister Ashraf Ghani.
Abdul Rab Rasoul Sayyaf, a former Islamist warlord who had close ties to al Qaeda, is also on the list, along with Karzai loyalist Zalmai Rassoul, who recently resigned as foreign minister to run.
Rassoul chose a radio as his election symbol, while Qayum Karzai chose a pencil and former Kandahar warlord Gul Agha Sherzai opted for a bulldozer to match his nickname, earned for his pugnacious style and support for building projects.
President Hamid Karzai has vowed not to endorse any one candidate and to oversee a free and fair election as his "legacy" to Afghanistan.
In 2009, Abdullah Abdullah came second with around 30 per cent of the vote, triggering a run-off against Karzai. He then pulled out after Karzai supporters were involved in nationwide vote fraud.
The election next year coincides with the withdrawal of 87,000 NATO combat troops as Afghan soldiers and police take charge of the battle against the Taliban.
Disqualified candidates will be able to appeal, with a final list of runners due to be published on November 16.