Both candidates vying to be the next president of Afghanistan are convinced they will win and that only cheating can stop them — setting the stage for a fraught election when campaigning starts Thursday. Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani are locked in a head-to-head battle that could test Afghan stability as the country chooses its first new leader since the tumultuous days after the Taliban regime fell in 2001. As the drawn-out election process builds to a climax, US-led combat troops are closing bases and withdrawing rapidly, with all remaining 51,000 NATO soldiers due to exit this year after more than a decade fighting the Taliban. The first-round election on April 5 was hailed a success by Afghan officials and foreign allies after the insurgents failed to launch a major attack, and fraud — though widespread — was deemed not to have affected the outcome.
Abdullah and Ghani, the two top vote-winners, progressed through to a run-off vote on June 14, with some observers fearful that the campaign could be antagonistic and that the final result may be disputed. “The worst-case scenario would be if the election is both polarising and the results are not accepted by one of the candidates — that has the potential to lead to conflict,” Nicholas Haysom, deputy UN mission chief, said this week. “The remedy to that is to make the election as transparent as possible.”
Many Afghans fear polling day will be targeted by the Taliban as the date falls at the height of the traditional “fighting season”, presenting the insurgents with a timely moment to grab back the headlines. “A second round gives an opportunity for a much more effective and complete democratic exercise to choose a leader,” Haysom said. “But it comes at a risk.”
Full Article: Risks multiply as Afghanistan readies for election run-off.