Residents pass an Afghan flag flying on a hill top in Kabul, Afghanistan. (Photographer: Victor J. Blue/Bloomberg)

Afghanistan’s Two Top Leaders Enter 2019 Presidential Race

(Bloomberg) -- Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah have both registered to run for president in elections to be held this year, vowing to bring peace and alleviate poverty in the country.

Abdullah registered his ticket, which includes two vice presidents and a chief executive, followed by Ghani at the Independent Election Commission in Kabul on Sunday. The vote is now expected in July as concerns mount that it will be marred by Taliban violence.

Afghan elections have been tainted by violence, ballot-stuffing and delays since the Taliban were ousted by the U.S. invasion in 2001. Abdullah, 58 and an ethnic Tajik, ran for president in 2009 and 2014 but failed to win either. He had declared himself winner in 2014 after accusing Ghani of fraud, and was appointed chief executive in a U.S.-brokered deal that stopped a potential civil war.

“We want a peace which is compatible with the realities of our society and a cure to the wounds of our people.” Abdullah told supporters and reporters on Sunday. “We will fight to root out poverty, inequality, instability and monopoly.”

He is seen by analysts as a strong contender against Ghani, who’s also seeking re-election. Other potential candidates are former national security adviser Mohammad Hanif Atmar, former warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and former head of Afghanistan’s intelligence agency, Rahmatullah Nabil.

“Ghani, Abdullah and Atmar will be the strongest rivals in the elections because all the three have the support from the majority of people,” Abdul Shukor Dadras, a Kabul-based independent political analyst said by phone. “The three top candidates also enjoy the great support from the international community.”

The Taliban, which controls or contests half of Afghanistan, is a potential threat for the upcoming vote. An added challenge is the ability of the election commission to address its shortcomings, with results of a parliamentary poll held last October yet to be announced.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.