Election authorities in Afghanistan have wrapped up a three-week process of registering candidates for next April’s crucial presidential vote. By the end of the deadline on Sunday, about 20 political heavyweights, including Islamist warlords, had submitted their candidacies for the country’s top office.
While the list of registered contenders for the April 5 presidential election has ended weeks of speculation over who is going to seek to replace President Hamid Karzai, the race remains wide open, with no clear front-runner.
Several prominent Afghan personalities were among the candidates who filed nominations to the Independent Election Commission in Kabul Sunday, just hours before it closed the registration campaign.
They include former foreign minister Zalmay Rassoul, former finance minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, who oversaw the transfer of security responsibilities from NATO to Afghan security forces, and Qayum Karzai, elder brother of the Afghan president.
Rassoul spoke to reporters after submitting his nomination papers on Sunday.
He said that if elected he, along with his team, will work toward more progress in Afghanistan, protecting historic achievements the country has made over the past decade, delivering good governance and stabilizing the legitimate national economy.
Ghani, also an ethnic Pashtun who came in third in the 2009 presidential election, promised to include losing candidates in his government if he is voted to power.
The former finance minister said this is the first time in national history that political power will be transferred to another elected team, and he predicted his team will be the winner because Afghanistan needs change.
The constitution bars President Karzai from running for a third consecutive term, and he has promised to stay neutral in the upcoming elections. However, there are speculations in the local media that the incumbent Afghan leader is expected to support his former foreign minister, Zalmay Rassoul.
Other top contenders include former foreign minister Abullah Abdullah, who was the runner-up to President Karzai in the 2009 polls, and lawmaker Abdul Rab Rasoul Sayyaf, an influential ethnic Pashtun religious scholar.
The April election is the first independent vote Afghanistan is organizing without direct foreign assistance, and it is taking place during the same year that American-led military coalition will wind up its combat mission in the country.
In the wake of the stepped up Taliban insurgency, many describe security as the biggest challenge for the Afghan national forces ahead of the election. Others caution against repetition of widespread rigging and fraud that marred the 2009 presidential election.
Addressing the Asia Society in New York as the foreign minister of Afghanistan, Zalmay Rassoul also underlined the importance of fair polls.
"This election is extremely important because if this election happened successfully and the result of this election will be accepted by the Afghan people, definitely the democratic process will be rooted in Afghan society and it can continue with achievement that we have made your (international community's) support in democratic process... and if we fail on providing a credible election, that will be disaster for the future of Afghanistan," he said.
The prevailing security concerns, particularly in areas where the Taliban has a strong presence, were once again highlighted by a roadside bomb attack Sunday in southern Afghanistan that killed four international soldiers, all of them reported to be Americans.