Afghan presidential contest tightens

July 14, 2009 at 3:18 PM

KABUL, Afghanistan, July 14 (UPI) -- The main opposition candidates to Afghan President Hamid Karzai are gaining ground with early forecasts predicting a runoff for the August vote.

Karzai squares off against more than 40 other candidates in the Aug. 20 contest. He leads the pack in the latest polling, but his two main rivals are gaining ground, the Christian Science Monitor reports.

His former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah and his former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani are canvassing areas outside their normal spheres of influence in Afghanistan in an effort to unseat Karzai.

Abdullah has waged a legacy campaign, drawing on his ties to the infamous Ahmad Shah Massoud, the so-called Lion of Panjshir who was assassinated two days before the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

"I want Afghanistan to stand on its own feet so that in a few years we won't need foreign troops," said Abdullah.

Meanwhile, Ghani hopes to draw on his experience as an analyst for the World Bank and his role in the early development of the current Afghan government. His ties to Washington, however, may undermine his chances at rivaling his two counterparts in the polls.

The Monitor cites May polling results from the International Republican Institute that show Karzai with 31 percent of the vote, Abdullah with 7 percent and Ghani with 2 percent.

Political analysts in Afghanistan say that as the campaign season evolves, support for Karzai's rivals may push the election into a runoff.

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