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Afghanistan Readies for Presidential Run-off

by Sharon Behn June 13, 2014

Security is tight in Kabul as Afghans prepare to head to the polls to choose a new president from the two remaining candidates, Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah, in a race that remains too close to call.

Security forces are determined — and one top Afghan security official has insisted —that Taliban threats to derail Saturday's election will not materialize.

In addition to regular troops, some 195,000 extra forces have been deployed to protect voters and the roughly 6,300 polling centers, says Ministry of Defense spokesman General Zahir Azimi. "All the mountains, valleys and areas where the enemy could attack, your sons and your brothers, our soldiers, are putting their lives on the line to prevent any threats and to protect your presence at the polling stations," he said.

The winner will have to contend with a weak economy, militant violence, and how to keep the international community involved in Afghanistan's development.

Jan Kubis, the UN special envoy to Afghanistan, calls the vote crucial to the country's future.

"Afghanistan is heading for one of the most important days in the modern history of this country," he said.

Gauging national public support for either candidate is difficult, but surveys published in recent weeks indicate the race will be close.

Ghani supporters such as Maryam Suleiman Kheil are convinced their preferred candidate, a former World Bank official and finance minister, is best equipped to stabilize the country and lead it forward.

"He's the person I feel is the most capable of bringing a change, a basic foundation for the future of Afghanistan, for the security of the world and for the youth," she said.

Abdullah backers such as Mahmoud Saikal, however, are just as adamant, saying only the former foreign minister can pull together a country riven by ethnic and tribal politics.

"We have been developing a national agenda for Afghanistan,' he said. 'We don't have an ethnic agenda, we don't have a linguistic agenda, we don't have a regional agenda."

Despite concerns about violence and fraud on election day, young voters in Kabul like Hodadad Shweib remain optimistic.

"Election is vital in a democratic practice in Afghanistan, so as a young person, as an Afghan, I am totally hopeful of the process and I am sure it will be much more successful," said Shweib.

Officials are hoping Saturday's turnout will strong, handing the country's next leader a clear mandate.

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