The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

Afghan presidential candidates in runoff election differ in style but agree on key issues

  • Print
FILE - In this Monday, April 21, 2014 photo, Afghan presidential candidate Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai speaks during a press conference, in Kabul, Afghanistan. Afghanistan's election commission announced on Thursday, May 15, 2014 that the country's presidential election is going into second round, with the two top vote getters to face off on June 14. The race will likely be tight between the two contenders, former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah and ex-Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul, File)

Enlarge Image

FILE - In this Monday, April 21, 2014 photo, Afghan presidential candidate Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai speaks during a press conference, in Kabul, Afghanistan. Afghanistan's election commission announced on Thursday, May 15, 2014 that the country's presidential election is going into second round, with the two top vote getters to face off on June 14. The race will likely be tight between the two contenders, former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah and ex-Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul, File)

KABUL - One is suave, debonair and well-groomed, often wearing bespoke suits and ascot ties. The other looks a bit like the famously ascetic Mahatma Gandhi and says he relaxes by reading centuries-old texts.

Afghanistan's presidential campaign is going to a runoff between two candidates with little to distinguish them on issues but sharply different personal backgrounds and styles.

The first, former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, is a one-time aide to a famed warlord during the Afghan anti-Soviet guerrilla campaign. The second, ex-Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, is a Columbia University-educated anthropologist who spent much of the '90s working for the World Bank.

Both have promised to sign a deal to allow some U.S. forces to stay in Afghanistan after the end of the year and have emphasized in their campaign speeches that they will do "whatever is necessary" to advance peace — without offering specifics. With no visible differences in either candidate's position on talks with the Taliban or relations with the U.S., the run-up to the June 14 final round is likely to be dominated by horse-trading among the country's still powerful ethnic voting blocks.

After an inconclusive first round of voting in April, Afghan voters must now return to the polls to select a successor to President Hamid Karzai, a one-time close U.S. ally who lately has been more a thorn in its side. A peaceful transfer of power would offer some hope that the hundreds of billions of dollars spent and more than 2,000 American lives lost in the war to stabilize Afghanistan after more than three decades of conflict were not wasted.

The second round will likely feature a tight race, but some observers have raised concerns that the balloting will highlight ethnic fault lines in the country of 30 million.

Abdullah, 53, has both Pashtun and Tajik parentage. During the Soviet occupation in the 1980s, he served as adviser to and spokesman for Tajik warlord Ahmad Shah Massoud, who was assassinated by al-Qaida two days before the Sept. 11, 2001 attack.

In the early days after the U.S.-led alliance toppled the Taliban regime, Abdullah became the face of Afghanistan's anti-Taliban movement, giving frequent press conferences to international media. He served as foreign minister and then was the runner-up in Karzai's disputed re-election in 2009.

Ahmadzai, a 64-year-old Pashtun, received a Ph.D. in anthropology from Columbia University and taught at Johns Hopkins University during the years of Soviet occupation. He then began a career at the World Bank and was finance minister in the first post-Taliban government. He also ran in the 2009 election, coached by American campaign consultant James Carville, but received only 3 per cent of the vote.

Both candidates have named running mates chosen strategically from other ethnic groups, a Pashtun for Abdullah and an Uzbek for Ahmadzai.

Sagarika Dutt, a South Asian specialist at Nottingham Trent University in England, said that Afghanistan's electoral politics "are still based on ethnic allegiances and affiliations, rather than on policies."

Next month's vote will also coincide with the height of the Taliban spring offensive that was launched earlier this week. The insurgency has renewed its campaign of attacks on the Afghan police and military, increasing fears over security when voters head to the polls.

The Taliban have pledged to disrupt the vote with bombings and other violence, although the first round on April 5 passed relatively peacefully.

Abdullah garnered 45 per cent of votes in the first round while Ahmadzai came in second with 31.6 per cent, Independent Election Commission Chairman Ahmad Yousuf Nouristani said. The final results were almost exactly the same as the preliminary results released late last month.

Abdullah said he was "certain" of carrying the second round, thanks to the wide cushion his first-round results give him, as well as endorsements he's won from several of the smaller first round candidates, including third-place finisher Zalmai Rassoul — who was considered Karzai's candidate of choice.

But it's unclear whether Rassoul can deliver the votes of his supporters, who are largely Pashtuns, the country's largest ethnic group.

Over 7 million Afghans voted in the first round, considered a strong turnout in an election plagued by Taliban threats and logistical hardships for both voters and poll workers.

U.S. representative James Dobbins expressed the hope that a successful election would be a step toward enticing the Taliban to agree to talks.

"We're hopeful that the Taliban will reconsider their position and be willing to engage directly with us possibly, but even more importantly, directly with the Afghan government," Dobbins said at a meeting in Tokyo of the International Contact Group for Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The head of the United Nations mission in Afghanistan commended the candidates for running "a hard-fought but positive campaign."

"I hope that the prevailing respectful tone seen in the first round is preserved in the weeks ahead," said Jan Kubis, the U.N. secretary general's special representative for Afghanistan. "Candidates have a responsibility to call on their supporters to refrain from inflammatory rhetoric, intimidation, and threats."

___

Associated Press writers Amir Shah in Kabul and Ken Moritsugu in Tokyo contributed to this report.

___

Follow Greg Keller on Twitter at https://twitter.com/Greg_Keller

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes

    No

  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.

letters

Make text: Larger | Smaller

LATEST VIDEO

Keri Latimer looks for beauty in the dark and the spaces between the notes

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • Someone or thing is taking advantage of the inactivity at Kapyong Barracks,hundreds of Canada Geese-See Joe Bryksa’s goose a day for 30 days challenge- Day 15- May 22, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
  • MIKE.DEAL@FREEPRESS.MB.CA 100615 - Tuesday, June 15th, 2010 The Mane Attraction - Lions are back at the Assiniboine Park Zoo. Xerxes a 3-year-old male African Lion rests in the shade of a tree in his new enclosure at the old Giant Panda building.  MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

View More Gallery Photos

Poll

Which of Manitoba's new landlord-tenant rules are you looking forward to most?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google