Connect to share and comment
Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, the brilliant and temperamental former finance minister, could play the decisive role in a suddenly suspenseful presidential campaign.
KABUL — Afghanistan’s election kaleidoscope has been shifting with dizzying speed, keeping voters, politicians and observers constantly off-balance.
With less than two weeks to go before the vote, scheduled for Aug. 20, the capital is buzzing with the latest rumors and conspiracy theories.
The incumbent, President Hamed Karzai, is still favored to win. But an unexpectedly strong challenge from his former foreign minister, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, could well rob him of his expected first-round victory.
British Ambassador Mark Sedwill fueled speculation with a statement in London this week, saying that the elections could well go to a second round. This was taken by gossip-hungry campaign watchers as a virtual endorsement of Abdullah.
If none of the 37 contenders receive more than 50 percent of the vote, there will be a runoff between the top two candidates.
No one is in any doubt as to who the frontrunners will be; a European Union official, speaking privately, said that the Independent Election Commission was already working on the ballot for Round Two, which, if necessary, will be held in early October. Printing and distributing close to 18 million ballot papers to Afghanistan’s remote regions is a complex and labor-intensive process, involving planes, trucks, cars and even donkeys.
But if Karzai and Abdullah are to go head-to-head in October, the decisive vote may well belong to the No. 3 candidate, Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai.
Ghani is the former finance minister who is credited with getting Afghanistan up and running following the collapse of the Taliban regime in 2001. He quit abruptly in 2004, in a dispute with the president over the pace of reform. Ghani has a doctorate in anthropology from Columbia University, has worked for the World Bank and was in the running for Secretary General of the United Nations when Kofi Annan retired in 2006.
But Ghani’s ego appears to be almost as large as his intellect. When asked what had happened to the promise of the early Karzai years, he said, directly and with no apparent irony, “I left.”