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Abdullah, Ghani Rivalry Likely To Cloud Afghan Presidential Polls


FILE: Afghan President Ashraf Ghani (R) and Afghanistan's Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah applaud during a session at the NATO Summit in Warsaw in July 2016.

For five years, former election rivals Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah have shared power. Their national unity government, however, was anything but united.

Days before the September 28 presidential election, they have again emerged as frontrunners, and their political rivalry is likely to loom large over Afghanistan’s fractured political field.

In the latest spat between the two, Ghani’s supporters are pushing back strongly against Abdullah’s accusation that the Afghan president used his office and government resources for campaigning.

“Some people [traders] are forced to contribute to his campaign or their businesses will face closures and they will be sent to the prosecutor’s office,” Abdullah told supporters on September 15. “The people of Afghanistan cannot tolerate such actions.”

He also accused Ghani of conducting campaign events from the Tawheed Center, a state-of-the-art government facility at the Afghan presidential palace that is tasked with coordinating security operations across the country.

“Video conferences are being conducted from the Tawheed Center,” Abdullah said. “To win the president’s favors, provincial governors invite district governors, who in turn gather people to talk to the president [via the video link].”

He called on his supporters to defy presidential decrees and orders if they are aimed at supporting the president’s campaign. Last week, Abdullah suspended a presidential decree that ordered an investigation into appointments at the foreign ministry.

Presidential spokesman Sediq Seddiqi rejected the accusations.

“While being one of the candidates in the presidential election, Mr. Ashraf Ghani is currently serving as the president of Afghanistan and exercises his executive, judicial and legislative powers within the applicable laws of the country,” he wrote on Twitter.

Seddiqi said that the Tawheed Center was only used for official security affairs. “Abdullah’s allegations are baseless. This office was never used for other [political] purposes,” he said.

In the absence of reliable polling data and prevailing insecurity, it is difficult to paint a realistic picture of who enjoys more popular support. But given their prominence, election coalitions, and campaign events, Abdullah and Ghani appear to be the leading contenders among the 16 candidates.

Afghans are keenly watching how the two will square off in a rare live televised debate late on September 16.

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