KABUL, Afghanistan — The candidate most likely to be named the next president of Afghanistan said Wednesday that he believes in a government of national unity and will seek to include his political opponent even if doing so requires negotiations after his swearing-in.
The questions that candidate Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai faced from journalists indicated that most people in the country, including Ghani Ahmadzai himself, assume he will be named the winner. His opponent, Abdullah Abdullah, conceded as much this week when he said he would not accept the "fraudulent" results expected to be announced by the election commission.
Talks toward a national unity government are deadlocked over what powers would be given to the losing candidate in a newly created role of chief executive. Abdullah's side wants the CEO to chair the Cabinet; Ghani Ahmadzai says that would violate the constitution, which says the president leads the Cabinet. Ghani Ahmadzai said his position signals his commitment to the rule of law.
If the two can't reach a deal soon, the election commission could be forced to announce a winner from the June runoff anyway. Still, Ghani Ahmadzai said, there would be time for an inclusive political deal.
"We believe in a government of national unity as a matter of principle. From the first day our team submitted our papers that has been our stance," he said. "A winner-take-all formula does not work in Afghanistan. We need to have an inclusive government."
Abdullah on Monday said the national unity government talks were deadlocked, but he did not say they were dead. Ashraf Ghani said there is no deadline to reach a deal. It would be preferable, he said, to agree before election results are announced.
After that it would be best for a deal before the swearing-in, he said. But if that date passes a deal could still be reached in his administration's first 45 days, which will be dedicated to forming a government, he said.
Ghani Ahmadzai downplayed the risk of violence from the political stalemate, saying the country is tired of conflict.
Ghani Ahmadzai said that his relationship with Abdullah remains cordial. He said the two have worked well together in the past, when Ghani Ahmadzai was minister of finance and Abdullah was minister of foreign affairs.
"We have never had a tense relationship," he said. "I have not exchanged one tense word with Dr. Abdullah."
Weeks of talks have yielded no breakthrough on the chief executive issue despite telephone calls to the candidates from President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry.
The international community had hoped for a smooth transition of power as most foreign forces withdraw by the end of the year. The U.S. wants the next Afghan president to quickly sign a security agreement to allow some 10,000 troops to remain to assist with counterterrorism operations and training Afghan forces.
Halim Fidai, a former Afghan governor and member of the Ghani Ahmadzai team, said he believes that Abdullah knows he has lost the election. Abdullah, he said, is arguing to give more powers to the chief executive. Why would a candidate who is about to be named president argue to give the chief executive more power, Fidai asked.
"He basically indirectly accepts the defeat, but he can't express that," Fidai said.
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