Monday, May 11, 2009
KABUL (Reuters) - Friday was the last day for candidates to register for Afghanistan's presidential election scheduled to take place on Aug. 20. The opposition has struggled to field a candidate with a broad enough base of support to challenge President Hamid Karzai.
Here are some facts about the vote:
WHO ARE THE MAIN FIGURES IN THE RACE?
The electoral commission said 42 candidates had registered to run by the time it closed its doors on Friday, and another five were waiting outside to submit documents. Most of the candidates are little known. Some of the main contenders include:
* HAMID KARZAI, born 1957. The incumbent president was installed under an internationally brokered deal after the Taliban were toppled in 2001. He was re-elected in Afghanistan's first democratic presidential poll in 2004. He is a Pashtun, from Afghanistan's largest ethnic group, and a leader of the Popalzai tribe, one of the largest tribes in the south.
* ABDULLAH ABDULLAH, born 1958. Like many Afghans, he sometimes uses just a single name, Abdullah, although he has said he prefers to use two names. An ophthalmologist by training, he was a senior figure in the alliance that overthrew the Taliban with U.S. air support in 2001, before serving as Karzai's foreign minister. Abdullah is half Pashtun and half Tajik, but is mainly linked to the Tajik minority because of his long-term association with late Tajik guerrilla leader Ahmad Shah Masood.
* ASHRAF GHANI, born 1949. A senior fellow in foreign policy at the Brookings Institution, he served as finance minister under Karzai between 2002 and 2004 and is viewed as a technocrat. Like Karzai, he is a Pashtun.
* HEDAYAT AMIN ARSALA, born 1942. Senior minister in Karzai's present government and a vice president in the interim government from 2001-04, Arsala is an economist and served 18 years with the World Bank. Also a Pashtun.
WILL KARZAI'S OPPONENTS STAND BEHIND ONE CANDIDATE?
Opponents of Afghan President Hamid Karzai have been scrambling in recent weeks to unite behind a leader best positioned to unseat Karzai, but seem to have failed to select a single standard bearer. Several high-profile figures who had indicated they might run decided instead to sit the poll out.
Powerful regional provincial governor Gul Agha Sherzai pulled out of the race last week, apparently to back Karzai. A founder of Abdullah's opposition movement, former guerrilla leader Mohammad Qasim Fahim, withdrew from the opposition to stand as one of Karzai's vice presidential candidates.
WHAT ARE KARZAI'S PROSPECTS?
Karzai is in a very strong position against a divided opposition. His three most prominent opponents are all seen as urban technocrats, fluent in English, but with limited support among tribal groups in a country that is 70 percent rural.
That said, the president has acknowledged that his own popularity has waned somewhat. Afghanistan has seen a sharp spike in violence after the Taliban made a strong comeback in 2006. Many Afghans complain that the government is corrupt and ineffective, and that Karzai has not done enough to curb the power of former warlords. Diplomats have complained about his choice of Fahim as a vice president, because of accusations of past human rights abuses.