Karzai may face runoff despite lead in Afghan election
Chicago Tribune
By Laura King

KABUL — President Hamid Karzai has a wide lead ahead of Thursday’s election in Afghanistan, but he may not be able to muster enough support to avoid a runoff, a new survey by the International Republican Institute suggests. On Saturday, a car bomber struck near the front gate of NATO headquarters in Kabul, killing seven and wounding nearly 100 in an attack that appeared aimed at frightening Afghans from voting.

The top candidates

President Hamid Karzai

The best scenario for Karzai’s opponents is that the 40 others in the race, including two women, can win enough votes to deny him a majority.

The urbane English-speaking son of a Pashtun tribal leader came into power shortly after the 2001 fall of the Taliban. He was one of the few Pashtun leaders to oppose the Taliban during the U.S.-led invasion.

But his standing has fallen hard since then. Diplomats in Kabul say Karzai has shied away from making hard choices to end the endemic corruption and increasing violence sweeping his country.

Former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah

The English-speaking ophthalmologist, whose father was Pashtun and whose mother was a Tajik, has been campaigning hard in the north and west of the country, hoping a big turnout there will offset Karzai’s perceived advantage in the Pashtun heartland of the south.

Abdullah served as a close adviser to the late Ahmed Shah Massood, a charismatic leader of the Northern Alliance that resisted the ruling Taliban. Both Karzai and Abdullah have attracted crowds of thousands of supporters at campaign events around the country.

Former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani

Ghani, an ex-World Bank official, is getting campaign advice from Democratic Party strategist James Carville. Once a possible candidate to become United Nations secretary-general, Ghani spent 24 years in exile before returning to Afghanistan in 2001 after the fall of the Taliban.

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