Ahead of a crucial election in Afghanistan, Taliban members are attempting to strengthen their hand by making alliances with candidates for office, according to a top U.N. envoy and various Afghan politicians. The group’s move toward electoral politics strikes many as ambivalent. Some suggest that it’s a ploy to gather political clout in advance of possible reconciliation talks, while others say it’s actually the candidates that are looking to gain favor with the Taliban, who often rule travel routes in important areas. Still, signs that the Taliban are “moving from bullets to ballots,” as former U.N. rep Staffan de Mistura put it, is a positive signal to many. Parliamentary elections, to be held on Saturday, will be a crucial test of the country’s faith in its nine-year-old democracy. Over 2,500 candidates are running for just 249 seats.