Some facts about the two Afghan presidential hopefuls vying to replace Hamid Karzai in the runoff Saturday:
ABDULLAH ABDULLAH: Abdullah, a 53-year-old former foreign minister, was the runner-up in the 2009 disputed elections won by Karzai. He emerged as the front-runner this time after he garnered 45 percent of the votes in the first round of balloting on April 5. Abdullah, whose mother is ethnic Tajik and father is Pashtun, has an advantage in name recognition and political organization. He was a close aide to the late Ahmad Shah Masood, the Northern Alliance rebel commander famed for his resistance to Soviet occupation and the Taliban. Abdullah has a strong following among ethnic Tajiks in Afghanistan’s north, but his perceived weak support among Pashtuns – Afghanistan’s largest ethnic group at 42 percent – could keep him from winning a majority of votes. Three of the candidates who lost in the first round – Zalmai Rassoul, Abdul Rasoul Sayyaf and Gul Agha Sherzai – as well as a number of influential former vice presidential candidates have thrown their support to Abdullah in the runoff.
ASHRAF GHANI AHMADZAI: Ahmadzai, a 64-year-old Pashtun who once served as finance minister and worked at the World Bank, came in second with 31.6 percent of the votes in the initial balloting. An academic with a reputation as a somewhat temperamental technocrat, Ahmadzai received a Ph.D. in anthropology from Columbia University and taught at Johns Hopkins University during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. He gave up U.S. citizenship to run in the 2009 elections but won only 3 percent of that vote. This time, he has gained the support of four former presidential contenders – Qayyum Karzai, Qutbuddin Hilal, Hedayat Amin Arsala and Mohammad Doud Sultanzai – as well as other former vice presidential candidates.