KABUL: Ashraf Ghani, one of two candidates competing to become Afghanistan’s president by next month, said Tuesday that the deadline for finishing an election recount is slipping and that a U.S.-brokered agreement for the rivals to form a joint government afterward does not mean the winner will fully share power with the loser.
Speaking to foreign journalists at his fortified compound in the capital, Ghani appeared to be trying to tamp down a surge of discontent among his supporters and allies, many of whom are reportedly upset that he agreed under U.S. pressure to accept a full recount from the country’s troubled runoff election in June and form a “unity” government with his rival, former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah.
On Friday, Ghani restated those pledges during a visit by Secretary of State John F. Kerry. But on Tuesday, he sought to clarify that he has not agreed to a power-sharing agreement with Abdullah. He said the winner will appoint the loser “by decree” as a chief executive to serve “at the discretion of the president.” Abdullah has demanded more authority if he loses.
Ghani also said Tuesday that while he “hoped” the audit could be done in time to have the new president attend a NATO summit in early September, no inauguration date has been set because of “technical uncertainties” with the slow-going audit of 8.1 million votes. He said both he and Abdullah will attend the summit, considered key to winning new foreign aid for the ailing Afghan economy.
Ghani finished ahead in the runoff but accepted the recount after Abdullah, who came in first in an initial round of presidential voting in April, charged that there had been massive fraud. Ghani was careful Tuesday not to claim victory. But he spoke in a distinctly presidential tone as he laid out a wide-ranging policy agenda for the next government, from banking and anti-corruption initiatives to the rights of women and Taliban prisoners.
“There will be no honeymoon,” said Ghani, 64, a cerebral former finance minister and World Bank official, describing the Afghan economy as being “in deep recession” approaching depression. He said running for president “appealed to me precisely because it was so difficult.”
Ghani said he was determined to build a credible government and change the country’s “winner-take-all” culture to a cooperative one. Blaming Afghanistan’s quarrelsome political elite for 300 years of government dysfunction and conflict, he vowed to avoid such polarization. “I’m sick and tired of blood,” he said.
But Ghani made it clear that if he becomes president — which seems likely unless close to 1 million votes for him are invalidated — he will be fully in charge. “Dual authority is not possible,” he said. “The position of the chief executive will solely depend on the discretion of the president.”
Many Afghans are confused about the nature of the unprecedented joint governing agreement made under pressure from the United States after the election broke down. They are also worried about a resurgence of violence among the dominant Pashtun and Tajik ethnic groups, although both candidates pointedly courted strongmen from diverse backgrounds.
After the June 14 runoff collapsed, some of Abdullah’s ethnic Tajik supporters threatened to take power by force if he lost. Now, some of Ghani’s fellow ethnic Pashtun supporters fear that Abdullah, if he loses, will be given too much power to fill lucrative government posts and will function more like a prime minister. Ghani took pains Tuesday to squelch this notion.
Yet, despite Kerry’s prodding and pledges from both men to work together no matter who wins, neither candidate has laid out a detailed vision for how that would work, and both are still forming teams to meet and discuss these issues.
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