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

Photogallery Strong Words Start, May End, S. African Xenophobic Attacks

President Jacob Zuma publicly condemned rise in attacks on foreign nationals but critics say leadership has been less than welcoming to foreign residents More

Video Family Waits to Hear Charges Against Reporter Jailed in Iran

Reports in Iran say Jason Rezaian has been charged with espionage, but brother tells VOA indictment has not been made public More

Video Overwhelmed by Migrants, Italy Mulls Action to Stabilize Libya

Amnesty International says multinational concerted humanitarian effort must be enacted to address crisis; decrepit boats continue to bring thousands of new arrivals daily 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.
Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?i
X
Steve Sandford
April 17, 2015 12:50 AM
Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?

Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Overwhelmed by Migrants, Italy Mulls Military Action to Stabilize Libya

Thousands more migrants have arrived on the southern shores of Italy from North Africa in the past two days. Authorities say they expect the total number of arrivals this year to far exceed previous levels, and the government has said military action in Libya might be necessary to stem the flow. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Putin Accuses Kyiv of ‘Cutting Off’ Eastern Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin, in his annual televised call-in program, again denied there were any Russian troops fighting in Ukraine. He also said the West was trying to ‘contain’ Russia with sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports on reactions to the president’s four-hour TV appearance.
Video

Video Eye Contact Secures Dog's Place in Human Heart

Dogs serve in the military, work with police and assist the disabled, and have been by our side for thousands of years serving as companions and loyal friends. We love them. They love us in return. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports on a new study that looks at the bio-chemical bond that cements that human-canine connection.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Search for Bodies of Missing Soldiers

As the cease-fire becomes more fragile in eastern Ukraine, a team of volunteer body collectors travels to the small village of Savur Mohyla in the what pro-Russian separatists call the Donetsk Peoples Republic - to retrieve bodies of fallen Ukrainian servicemen from rebel-held territories. Adam Bailes traveled with the team and has this report.
Video

Video Xenophobic Violence Sweeps South Africa

South Africa, long a haven for African immigrants, has been experiencing the worst xenophobic violence in years, with at least five people killed and hundreds displaced in recent weeks. From Johannesburg, VOA’s Anita Powell brings us this report.
Video

Video Sierra Leone President Koroma Bemoans Ebola Impact on Economy

In an interview with VOA's Shaka Ssali on Wednesday, President Ernest Koroma said the outbreak undermined his government’s efforts to boost and restructure the economy after years of civil war.
Video

Video Protester Lands Gyrocopter on Capitol Lawn

A 61-year-old mailman from Florida landed a small aircraft on the Capitol lawn in Washington to bring attention to campaign finance reform and what he says is government corruption. Wednesday's incident was one in a string of security breaches on U.S. government property. Zlatica Hoke reports the gyrocopter landing violated a no-fly zone.
Video

Video Apollo 13, NASA's 'Successful Failure,' Remembered

The Apollo 13 mission in 1970 was supposed to be NASA's third manned trip to the moon, but it became much more. On the flight's 45th anniversary, astronauts and flight directors gathered at Chicago's Adler Planetarium to talk about how the aborted mission changed manned spaceflight and continues to influence space exploration today. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video Badly Burned Ukrainian Boy Bravely Fights Back

A 9-year-old Ukrainian boy has returned to his native country after intensive treatment in the United States for life-threatening burns. Volodia Bubela, burned in a house fire almost a year ago, battled back at a Boston hospital, impressing doctors with his bravery. Faith Lapidus narrates this report from VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko.
Video

Video US Maternity Leave Benefits Much Less Than Many Countries

It was almost 20 years ago that representatives of 189 countries met at a UN conference in Beijing and adopted a plan of action to achieve gender equality around the world. Now, two decades later, the University of California Los Angeles World Policy Analysis Center has issued a report examining what the Beijing Platform for Action has achieved. From Los Angeles, Elizabeth Lee has more.
Video

Video Endangered Hawaiian Birds Get Second Chance

Of the world's nearly 9,900 bird species, 13 percent are threatened with extinction, according to BirdLife International. Among them are two Hawaiian honeycreepers - tiny birds that live in the forest canopy, and, as the name implies, survive on nectar from tropical flowers. Scientists at the San Diego Zoo report they have managed to hatch half a dozen of their chicks in captivity, raising hopes that the birds will flutter back from the brink of extinction. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Exhibit Brings Renaissance Master Out of the Shadows

The National Gallery of Art in Washington has raised the curtain on one of the most intriguing painters of the High Renaissance. Mostly ignored after his death in the early 1500s, Italian master Piero di Cosimo is now claiming his place alongside the best-known artists of the period. VOA’s Ardita Dunellari reports.
Video

Video Sidemen to Famous Blues Artists Record Their Own CD

Legendary blues singer BB King was briefly hospitalized last week and the 87-year-old “King of the Blues” may not be touring much anymore. But some of the musicians who have played with him and other blues legends have now released their own CD in an attempt to pass the torch to younger fans... and put their own talents out front as well. VOA’s Greg Flakus has followed this project over the past year and filed this report from Houston.
Video

Video Iran-Saudi Rivalry Is Stoking Conflict in Yemen

Iran has proposed a peace plan to end the conflict in Yemen, but the idea has received little support from regional rivals like Saudi Arabia. They accuse Tehran of backing the Houthi rebels, who have forced Yemen’s president to flee to Riyadh, and have taken over swaths of Yemen. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA, analysts say the conflict is being fueled by the Sunni-Shia rivalry between the two regional powers.

VOA Blogs