Afghan President Ashraf Ghani says his country needs "one president, not two," telling RFE/RL that if he wins a presidential election on September 28 he won't accept another national unity government.
The 70-year-old Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah have ruled through a deeply unpopular and fractured power-sharing arrangement since a disputed presidential election in 2014.
"Afghanistan will have one president, not two," Ghani told RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan in an interview in the capital Kabul on September 25. "A national unity government is no longer acceptable."
Ghani and Abdullah, 59, are again front-runners in the vote, which could potentially be the country's only second democratic transfer of power.
Campaigning has been marred by deadly Taliban attacks, accusations against Ghani of abuse of authority, and fears of mass fraud and vote-rigging.
The factors underlying the elections in 2014 -- systemic corruption, widespread insecurity, and a problematic electoral system -- have not been addressed and many observers have predicted another potential dispute.
The bitter, fraud-marred 2014 vote pushed Afghanistan to the brink of civil war before the power-sharing deal was brokered by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.
"Our national security forces are completely impartial, they are the protectors of the law, and the dangers and threats that existed then don’t exist now," Ghani said.
After Ghani was declared the winner of the runoff in 2014, Abdullah alleged mass-scale vote-rigging and his supporters threatened violence.
Confident He Will Win
Ghani said U.S. mediation would not be necessary, adding that he was confident he would win the election.
"The use of armed forces is completely out of the question," he said. "The people of Afghanistan will defend their free and fair votes."
Ghani's rivals, including Abdullah, have accused the president of abuse of power and using government resources for his personal gain.
For his part, Abdullah alleged in an interview with the Associated Press on September 26 that the vote is threatened by widespread abuses of power by Ghani.
"My main concern will be that massively fraudulent elections...will have an impact on the mentality of the people, on the views of the people, the democratic process, whether it is functioning or not," Abdullah said. "If it is not functioning, what's the other way to go ahead with your goals?"
Ghani responded by saying a “special court” should try his challengers for making corruption claims against him and “if they can’t prove their claims, they should be tried and sent to jail.”
Earlier this month, Ghani used a police training center in the northern province of Parwan as the venue of a rally, a violation of electoral rules.
"So, where should we have held it?" he said, adding the site was selected to protect peoples' lives.
Even then, a Taliban suicide bomber killed 26 people after detonating his explosives near the crowd on September 17.
U.S. State Secretary Mike Pompeo spoke with Ghani on September 26 "to underscore the United States' expectation that the conduct of candidates and government institutions holding the Afghanistan election should be beyond reproach to ensure the legitimacy of the outcome," the State Department said in a statement.
The United States "reiterates its condemnation" of the Taliban, Islamic State, and other extremist groups that have "threatened violence in order to deprive citizens of their right to vote," it added.
Earlier in the day, the Taliban warned it would attack security forces at polling stations and block roads to disrupt voting.
The militants called on Afghans to refrain from taking part in the election and stay home in order to remain safe.
Observers say the fear of violence and the potential of another fraudulent election have sapped enthusiasm for the vote, with some expecting a record-low turnout.
Turnout for the 2014 election was nearly 60 percent, while only 38 percent of eligible voters cast ballots in chaotic parliamentary elections in October last year that were marred by technical and organizational issues.
More than 2,000 out of 7,000 polling stations will be closed due to the threat of militant attacks. In the past, the Taliban has bombed polling centers and targeted voters.
If no candidate receives a majority in the first-round vote -- a scenario considered unlikely -- a second round will be held on November 23 between the top two finishers.