On 29 September 2014, Ashraf Ghani, the former World Bank technocrat and prominent intellectual, became the first modern leader of Afghanistan to take office in a peaceful transfer of power.
His inauguration as President had come under a dark cloud following fraud allegations that were so serious that he was forced to accept a power-sharing arrangement with his opponent, the official runner-up, Abdullah Abdullah.
In his inaugural address, President Ghani spoke at length about the need to fight corruption and to bring more women and young people into the government. He struck an immediate contrast with his predecessor, Hamid Karzai, by saying that his wife, Rula, a Lebanese, would take part in public life.
Despite a reputation for intellectual arrogance, Mr Ghani struck a humble note. “I’m your leader, but I’m not better than you, so if I make any mistake you should hold me accountable for it,” he said. He also told the country’s judicial authorities not to hesitate to prosecute his own relatives if the need ever arises.
Mr Ghani won a 14 June runoff election against Mr Abdullah, getting 55 percent of the vote to Mr Abdullah’s 45 percent, but Mr Abdullah and his supporters cried foul. He had won the original April 6 election with 45 percent of the vote to Mr Ghani’s 31 percent in a crowded field of contenders, and accused his opponent of fraud.
Nearly a million votes were discarded as fraudulent, twice as many for Mr Ghani, but Mr Abdullah’s supporters said the true number of fraudulent votes was two or three times higher than that.
The dispute forced a full audit of the vote, supervised by the United Nations, but Mr Abdullah’s supporters felt the audit was not fair and boycotted it. After two visits to the Afghan capital, Kabul, by US Secretary of State John Kerry, and further negotiations by phone and video link, the two sides agreed to a national unity government in which Mr Abdullah would have substantial powers.
Despite the concerns around election wrangle, the transfer of power was unique in Afghanistan’s modern history, and Mr. Karzai said he was fulfilling his oft-stated ambition of democratically and peacefully handing power to a successor.
Ghani, an ethnic Pashtun, and Abdullah, whose main support comes from the country’s second largest ethnic group, the Tajiks, also face a difficult task forging unity in a country raven by ethnic and tribal rivalries. Abdullah’s accusations that the run-off election was rigged in Ghani’s favour had raised fears of ethnic violence, which could have ignited a conflict.