The top contenders for the Afghan presidency

PUBLISHED : Friday, 04 April, 2014, 10:27pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 05 April, 2014, 7:06am

For the first time in Afghanistan's history, the outcome of today's presidential election is a mystery.

President Hamid Karzai cannot serve a third four-year term, and there has been no front runner among the people vying to replace him.

For weeks, the major candidates - Abdullah Abdullah, Ashraf Ghani and Zalmai Rasoul - have criss-crossed the country, describing their policies at huge outdoor rallies. Cheering, flag-waving crowds have sometimes waited hours in the sun without food or water.

Abdullah, 53, is an ophthalmologist and former fighter in the war against the Soviets. He ran for president in 2009 and blamed his defeat on ballot fraud. He was the foreign minister for the military front, the Afghan Northern Alliance. After the murder of its leader, Ahmad Shah Massoud, two days before the September 11th 2001 attacks against the United States, Abdullah helped broker the group's co-operation with US-led forces to topple the Taliban.

Ghani, 65, won about four per cent of the vote in 2009 after serving as finance minister from 2002 to 2004. A former official at the World Bank and the United Nations, he surprised many when he chose as his running mate Abdul Rashid Dostum, an Uzbek who commands a personal militia in his northern power base. He could deliver a significant ethnic vote bloc.

Rasoul, 71, a Karzai confidant, served as the outgoing president's foreign minister from 2010 to 2013. He demonstrated his commitment to women's rights by choosing as one of his two vice-presidential running mates the only woman in the race: Habiba Sarobi, an ethnic Hazara and the former governor of Bamiyan province.

Many Afghans, weary of the violence and corruption that stalks their lives and sick of being marginalised by an unaccountable political elite, believe that this time every vote counts. Many have waited until the last minute to make up their minds.