Days before Afghans go to the polls in a crucial presidential election, incumbent Ashraf Ghani has said he does not plan to seek another coalition administration.
Ghani, 70, is widely seen as the frontrunner in the September 28 election where he is expected to battle against Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah. The two partnered in a national unity government after contesting in two rounds of a controversial presidential election in 2014.
“Afghanistan must have one president, not two. I will not accept the national unity government,” Ghani told Radio Free Afghanistan in an exclusive interview in Kabul on September 25.
“God willing, I expect to win the election during the first round. I believe and trust that the decision is in the hands of the Afghan people,” he said. Ghani vowed to accept the results of the vote.
In September 2014, John Kerry, then U.S. secretary of state, brokered a coalition deal between bitter election rivals Ghani and Abdullah. Formally called the national unity government, their administration was anything but united. Disagreements between the two camps often stalled the government business as they fought over appointments and the scope of their power.
The two leaders publicly disagreed over major policies such as the peace process aimed at ending Afghanistan’s four-decade war. Their personal criticism, too, sometimes became public.
While Abdullah accused Ghani of committing widespread fraud, Ghani said that he had agreed to share power with Abdullah in Afghanistan’s larger national interest and to promote unity in the ethnically diverse Muslim nation.
“In 2014, I made sure that all votes are counted -- 100 percent – and the fraud was not proved, but I made the national unity government because of national concerns and not because of fraud claims,” he said. “The votes were counted three times on my request. I told the [U.S. Secretary of State] John Kerry that every vote must be counted. If all the votes were not counted, do you think Dr. Abdullah would have accepted that I become the president?”
Recriminations between Ghani and Abdullah have reached unprecedented levels as the two square off ahead of the September 28 election.
“Some people [traders] are forced to contribute to his [Ghani’s] 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.”
But Ghani rejects such accusations and says he is not using his office or government resources in his campaign, which is set to end on September 25.
Ghani is confident that Afghanistan’s election and security institutions can hold a free and fair election.
“My opponents can only challenge the election results in a court of law and not in a personal way,” he said as he ruled out the possibility of disagreements over the election results snowballing into a civil war. “Our security and defense institutions are completely neutral, and they are the guardians of law. We don’t have the same dangers and threats that we had then [in 2014].”
But Hamid Karzai, Ghani’s predecessor, disagrees. He told the Associated Press that the vote “has all the potential and possibilities to lead the country further down to the abyss of crisis and insecurity and divisions.”
Hundreds have died in the Taliban’s ramped-up attacks in the run-up to the presidential election. In August, the hard-line Islamist movement warned Afghans to avoid "electoral offices, voting booths, rallies, and campaigns.”
Election authorities in Afghanistan, however, are ready for the vote. Some 96 million Afghans among the country’s estimated 35 million people are registered to vote. Some 72,000 security forces are expected to provide security to 5,373 polling centers across Afghanistan’s 34 provinces. Approximately 110,000 polling officials, half of them women, are expected to staff the event.