News / Asia

Column: Afghans Face Stark Choice in Presidential Vote

An Afghan woman casts her ballot at a polling station in Mazar-i-sharif, Apr. 5, 2014.
An Afghan woman casts her ballot at a polling station in Mazar-i-sharif, Apr. 5, 2014.
Spozhmai Maiwandi
As the field of presidential candidates has whittled from eleven to two, it has become clear that Afghans have a stark choice in the runoff this month.

It’s one between an established, old-guard candidate with more than 30 years of experience navigating internal Afghan politics and a moderate, Western-educated newcomer who is interested in change and progress.

What do we know about Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani?
 
Afghan presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah speaks during a news conference in Kabul, Afghanistan, Wednesday, May 14, 2014.Afghan presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah speaks during a news conference in Kabul, Afghanistan, Wednesday, May 14, 2014.
x
Afghan presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah speaks during a news conference in Kabul, Afghanistan, Wednesday, May 14, 2014.
Afghan presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah speaks during a news conference in Kabul, Afghanistan, Wednesday, May 14, 2014.
Abdullah, 54, is trained as an ophthalmologist, who received his medical doctor’s degree at Kabul University’s Department of Medicine. He has long been involved in Afghan politics, joining the resistance following the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan in 1979.

Abdullah  won 45 percent of the vote in the general election. He will be facing Ashraf Ghani, who won 31.6 percent of the votes in the April 5 election.
 
Afghan presidential candidate Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai addresses a news conference in Kabul, Afghanistan, Thursday, May 15, 2014Afghan presidential candidate Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai addresses a news conference in Kabul, Afghanistan, Thursday, May 15, 2014
x
Afghan presidential candidate Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai addresses a news conference in Kabul, Afghanistan, Thursday, May 15, 2014
Afghan presidential candidate Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai addresses a news conference in Kabul, Afghanistan, Thursday, May 15, 2014
Ghani is a relative newcomer to Afghan politics. He was in the United States, earning his Ph.D.in cultural anthropology when pro-Communists came to power and the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan.

Ghani  remained an academic in the United States until joining the World Bank in 1991. Ghani returned to Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban, working on the transition to a new, popularly elected government.   

Both Abdullah and Ghani were members at various points of the outgoing Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s cabinet. Abdullah served as the Foreign Minister and  Ghani as the Finance Minister.

A longtime close companion and adviser of the Afghan commander Ahmad Shah Massoud, Abdullah both benefits and is adversely affected by that association.
A recognized name with a noted history of fighting the Soviets with the opposition Northern Alliance, Abdullah has widespread support among former partisans.

But  his history with the Northern Alliance during the Soviet occupation and the subsequent Afghan civil war makes Abdullah subject to  criticism and is considered by some Afghans a continuation of the status quo.
 
Both men ran for president of Afghanistan in 2009.

Abdullah finished second to current President Hamid Karzai and qualified for a runoff after the discovery of fraudulent ballots caused Karzai’s vote count to fall below 50 percent.

But Abdullah refused to go to a second round and conceded the election.

Hindsight gives insight

In an interview with the VOA Afghanistan Service in February 2014, Abdullah said that his experience and learning from the mistakes of his last campaign would help him win the election.

Ghani finished a distant fourth in the 2009 election with less than 3 percent of the vote.

This year, as in 2009, he relied on his education and experience in the Western world to run  a campaign specifically against “business as usual” in Afghan politics.
His status as a relative newcomer carries with it a hopeful promise of change, but also carries charges of him being too far removed from Afghan history and concerns.

Ghani’s experience working as a World Bank officer in a number of conflict zones is considered by many to be his chief advantage in the election.

With an economy mainly supported by international monies, Afghanistan is desperate for leadership that deals with corruption.

With his background, Ghani can implement economic policies for growth and job creation.

Choosing sides

In a February 2014 interview with VOA, Ghani emphasized the importance of rule of law as Afghanistan transitions to greater economic independence in the coming years. His supporters consider  Ghani a voice of change, moderation, and modernization in Afghanistan.

As the election hangs in the balance, major players wheel and deal in the background.

Candidates who did not garner enough votes to participate in the runoff are choosing sides and allying themselves with either Abduallah or Ghani.

Zalmay Rassoul, the candidate supported by Karzai  finished third in the general election. He endorsed  Abdullah during  a formal ceremony.

Notably absent from that ceremony was Rassoul’s running-mate, Ahmad Zia Massoud, the brother of the assassinated  Northern Alliance commander,  Ahmad Shah Massoud.

But instead of supporting his late brother’s ally, Massoud  threw his support to Ghani.

Another presidential candidate, fifth place finisher Gul Agha Sherzai, threw his support behind Abdullah. But half of Sherzai’s party has split.

Abdul Rab Rasool Sayaf, the leader of one of the Soviet era mujahideen factions, who finished fourth in the general elections, has announced his support for Abdullah.

In addition to currying favor by seeking powerful alliances with the other candidates, both Abdullah and Ghani have announced key members of their tickets in order to cast a wider net for support.

Abdullah has selected friends from his Jihadi days—former Hizb-e-Islami (Islamic Party) Intelligence Chief Engineer Mohammad Khan, a Pashtun from Ghazni Province, as his first vice prresident; and as the second vice president, Haji Mohammad Mohaqeq a Hazara Shiaa from Bamiyan province.

Ghani put forward General Abdul Rashid Dustom, an Uzbek from Jawzjan province, and Sarwar Danish, a Hazara Shiaa who was a former Minister of Education, as his two running-mates.

With their choices, both candidates reveal the necessity of balancing interests along mujahideen, ethnic, and religious lines.

Challenges ahead

Whoever prevails will face some major challenges as president.

Both men consider security a major concern and have addressed the possibility of peace talks with the Taliban.

“It depends on what they want,”  Abdullah said in an interview with VOA’s Afghan Service. “Are they in favor of a negotiated settlement or not?  If the Taliban or the majority of them think that a continuation of war is the solution, then no, peace will not prevail and the wishes of the majority of Afghans will not be fulfilled.”

Abdullah added that the outcome of talks with the Taliban depends on Pakistan. He said   if Pakistan decides that the training nests of terrorists have to be eliminated, then it might be possible to have peace,”  adding that giving up hard fought rights for women and education cannot be the price for peace and security for Afghans.   

In an interview with VOA, Ghani said that Taliban concerns about the presence of international forces should not be linked to talks. 
 
“Yes, as soon as the talks start, the international forces will be out," he said. "They are in Afghanistan for a reason and the reason is lack of peace and security. As soon as security is maintained, they will leave."

Both  Abdullah and  Ghani have said that, unlike President Karzai, they will sign the Bilateral Strategic Agreement with the U.S., which has been a sticking point of ruffled relations between Kabul and Washington.

By all accounts, given the changing landscape of last-minute alliances, the election is entirely up for grabs and could go either way.

You May Like

Multimedia US Nurse ‘Cured of Ebola,’ NIH Says

Nina Pham, Texas nurse who treated first Ebola patient in US, received no experimental drugs; WHO expects vaccine surge in 2015 More

Video Islamic State Militants Encroach on Baghdad

Iraqi capital not under ‘imminent threat,’ US military says, amid worries about foothold More

Video Hong Kong Protesters Focus on Holding Volatile Mong Kok

Activists say holding Mong Kok is key to their movement's success, despite confrontations with angry residents and police More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rulesi
X
October 21, 2014 12:20 AM
European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.
Video

Video Young Nairobi Tech Innovator on 'Track' in Security Business

A 24-year-old technology innovator in Nairobi has invented a tracking device that monitors and secures cars. He has also come up with what he claims is the most robust audio-visual surveillance system yet. As Lenny Ruvaga reports from the Kenyan capital, his innovations are offering alternative security solutions.
Video

Video Latinas Converting to Islam for Identity, Structure

Latinos are one of the fastest growing groups in the Muslim religion. According to the Pew Research Center, about 6 percent of American Muslims are Latino. And a little more than half of new converts are female. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti travelled to Miami, Florida -- where two out of every three residents is Hispanic -- to learn more.
Video

Video Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fight

The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video South Korea Confronts Violence Within Military Ranks

Every able-bodied South Korean male between 18 and 35 must serve for 21 to 36 months in the country’s armed forces, depending upon the specific branch. For many, service is a rite of passage to manhood. But there are growing concerns that bullying and violence come along with the tradition. Reporter Jason Strother has more from Seoul.
Video

Video North Carolina Emerges as Key Election Battleground

U.S. congressional midterm elections will be held on November 4th and most political analysts give Republicans an excellent chance to win a majority in the U.S. Senate, which Democrats now control. So what are the issues driving voters in this congressional election year? VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone traveled to North Carolina, one of the most politically competitive states in the country, to find out.
Video

Video Comanche People Maintain Pride in Their Heritage

The Comanche (Indian nation) once were called the “Lords of the Plains,” with an empire that included half the land area of current day Texas, large parts of Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas and Colorado.The fierceness and battle prowess of these warriors on horseback delayed the settlement of most of West Texas for four decades. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Lawton, Oklahoma, that while their warrior days are over, the 15,000 members of the Comanche Nation remain a proud people.
Video

Video Turkey Campus Attacks Raise Islamic Radicalization Fears

Concerns are growing in Turkey of Islamic radicalization at some universities, after clashes between supporters of the jihadist group Islamic State (IS) or ISIS, and those opposed to the extremists. Pro-jihadist literature is on sale openly on the streets of Istanbul. Critics accuse the government of turning a blind eye to radicalism at home, while Kurds accuse the president of supporting IS - a charge strongly denied. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

All About America

AppleAndroid