Sat, Jul 25, 2009 - Page 5 News List

Karzai chided for backing out of TV debate with rivals

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , KABUL

Afghan President Hamid Karzai backed out of a live televised debate with two of his leading opponents on Thursday, saying that he had not been given enough time to prepare and questioning the neutrality of the television channel organizing it.

Karzai’s opponents accused him of backing out because he could not defend his performance of the last seven years in office. But the president’s campaign office said he would take part in a debate nearer to the election, scheduled for Aug. 20, preferably on state-run television.

Tolo TV, the independent channel organizing the event, showed the debate anyway, with the two most prominent presidential contenders, Ashraf Ghani and Dr Abdullah Abdullah, standing beside an empty lectern.

Both former ministers in Karzai’s Cabinet, the candidates criticized his government’s performance, particularly its failure to bring security to the country, the lack of justice and widespread corruption.

The two-hour debate was polite and rarely confrontational, with a moderator asking questions to the candidates. Much of the discussion was about what was wrong with the country and, by reflection, with Karzai’s leadership.

“One of the reasons behind the incapacity of the government is that it is not answering the people, like the president who did not come here to answer questions,” Abdullah said.

Ghani said: “If you think there was improvement in the last five years, vote for this government. If not, vote for justice.”

The proposal for a TV debate had been discussed for weeks, and Karzai had agreed to it publicly. But his campaign office said on Thursday that he had not yet released his election platform or seen the platforms of his opponents.

Jahid Mohseni, director of Tolo TV, said the company had not wanted to delay the debate longer and finally set a date two weeks ago, and informed the candidates formally this week.

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