"There are only two women on the list, but the electoral commission is very proud of the high number of candidates," Al Jazeera's correspondent said.

"But there is a down side to that. Just to print the ballot papers, it is going to cost $123m, and each candidate must have 20 policemen to protect them."

On the final list is Ashraf Ghani, the former finance minister, and Abdullah Abdullah, the former foreign minister, seen by many observers as the strongest challengers to Karzai who is going for a second term.

Weak challenge

Lodin complained that many of the candidates should not be on the ballot paper because they were not qualified to be president, many being unknown.

"Unfortunately I have to announce that we have this long list," he told reporters, pointing to the final list of candidates for the election - the second in Afghanistan's history.

Al Jazeera's correspondent reported: "The bar has been set too low. All you need to do is come up with $1,000 to register, get 10,000 signatures, be above the age of 40, and have 10 years' work experience and higher education.

"It is simply too easy to be part of the process," he said.

The Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) expelled Muhammad Akbar Bai, a Turkman factional leader, and another unknown, Sayyed Jafar Hufyani, as well as one of the vice-presidential running mates, he said.

Lodin would not say on which basis these men had been removed.

The ECC said last week that 55 of 57 people it had barred from the presidential race and simultaneous vote for the provincial council were linked to illegal armed groups.

Another had dual nationality and one had a criminal conviction, it said.

"Because of the divisions, the tribes and war lords, it is a very complex situation, and a very expensive process," Chater said.

"Out of the 364 districts in the election, 10 are under the control of the Taliban, and nearly half are in an unstable position."

Under the country's constitution, the vote was due to be held in May, but was postponed to August 20, when thousands of extra American troops are due to arrive in the country to fight the Taliban.