KABUL: Registration for presidential nominees ended on Sunday in Afghanistan with incumbent President Ashraf Ghani competing against 13 other candidates for the vote slated for July 20.
The presidential election scheduled for April this year was delayed by three months amid efforts for political reconciliation with the Taliban.
Ghani’s arch rival is seen as Haneef Atmar, a former communist who lost a leg in the war and served for years as Ghani’s national security adviser until last summer when he resigned over what he described as serious differences with the US-backed president over his domestic and foreign policies.
The election is a key test of Afghanistan’s struggle for democracy since the ouster of Taliban regime in 2001, and comes amid rising factional and tribal rivalry and soaring attacks by Taliban militants.
It is also seen as a colossal challenge for Ghani, who assumed the office following 2014 election that resulted in the creation of National Unity Government (NUG), where Ghani shared power with his then challenger, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, under a US-brokered deal.
Abdullah, who is chief executive (CE) in the government, is also standing for president, as is ex-warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who joined Ghani’s government in 2017 as part of a peace deal; Rahmatullah Nabil, former chief of National Directorate of Security (NDS), Army General Murad Ali Murad; and former Minister of Women’s Affairs Massouda Jalal. Ahmed Wali Massoud, head of the Massoud Foundation and a graduate of University of Westminster, London, is also in the running with Farida Mohmand, former minister of higher education contesting as his first vice president and Abdul Latif Nazari, a university lecturer, as his running mate for second VP.
The candidates belong to various ethnic groups or consider themselves as self-proclaimed leaders of tribes. They have served different regimes and have fought against each other during the protracted Afghan war.
Abdul Latif Pedram, Hakim Torsan, Sayed Noorullah Jalili, Enayatullah Hafiz, Zalmai Rassoul, Noorul Haq Ulumi, Faramarz Tamanna and Mohammad Haneef Atmar have also entered the race for the presidential poll.
Jamiat-e-Islami, the political grouping with its core base in the Panjshir valley, has fielded two presidential hopefuls, Dr. Abdullah and Ahmad Wali Masood, his long-time friend. The valley has two candidates for the position of first VP, one backing Ghani and another siding with Atmar.
A Shiite faction for Hezb-i-Wahdat has pitched three nominees for the position of second VPs who support Ghani, Atmar and Abdullah.
Ghani in a speech on Sunday after registration insisted on a strong presidential system while Atmar recently spoke about creating the post of premiership by changing the constitution, giving authority to provincial governors and the appointment of a third position for another VP.
Atmar’s offer may appeal to factional rulers and regional strongmen, and these key players have thrown their support behind him.
Abdullah said he plans to keep the post of CE and offer it to if his team wins the office. His ticket suffered a blow on Sunday when an ethnic Pashtun he has picked up for CE did not turn up.
Even a key ally of Abdullah in the ticket spoke about it lacking a figure from the Pashtun ethnicity, the largest group which has ruled Afghanistan for much of the past three centuries.
President Ghani has strongly ruled out the notion of forming an interim government until the election is held.
“We will not accept an interim government, not now, not tomorrow and not even in the next 100 years,” he said.
Changing the composition of leadership of the election commission has been a demand of candidates and political parties following the massively mismanaged parliamentary elections held in October.
The Independent Election Commission (IEC) still has not managed to release initial results of the parliamentary poll, which was also marred by allegations of fraud and witnessed major Taliban attacks.
Musa Fariwar, a political science professor, said the elections, if held as slated in July, may affect any possible peace deal with the Taliban.
He listed insecurity as a major challenge for the vote.
“The situation is unstable, there is political instability too. The more volatile the situation becomes, the lower the turnout and that will have a direct impact on the legitimacy of the elections and the government that is formed as a result,” he told Arab News.
He said certain foreign powers were also backing certain candidates who could exploit the dismal condition of Afghans and play on the tribal rifts to work for their favorite nominee to win.