KABUL: Abdullah Abdullah, the suave former foreign minister who came second in Afghanistan's fraud-tainted 2009 election, on Tuesday entered next year's presidential race as the deadline for nominations loomed.
Abdullah pulled out of a second-round run-off in 2009 after collecting about 30 percent of the vote, allowing President Hamid Karzai to retain power in an election that was badly marred by cheating and violence.
"We will make sure that the people of Afghanistan have a fair election," Abdullah said as he arrived at the Independent Election Commission offices in Kabul and registered for the April 5 poll.
International donors are pushing hard for a credible election process next year after billions of dollars of development aid and 13 years of bloody fighting by US-led NATO forces against Taliban militants.
The election comes as the NATO combat troops withdraw by December 2014 and the Taliban, who were ousted from Kabul in 2001, seek to return to government.
Abdullah, a former eye surgeon, remains bitter about his old rival Karzai after the 2009 poll and he has previously alleged that the president, who is barred from standing for a third term, is plotting to extend his tenure.
Abdullah was a close aide to Ahmad Shah Massoud, the anti- Taliban commander who was killed in 2001, and his fluent English and smooth manner have earned him a strong reputation in international political circles.
He served as Karzai's foreign minister from 2001 until he was sacked in 2006, and later became a leading figure in the fluid opposition groups against the president.
Abdullah, son of a Pashtun father from Kandahar and Tajik mother, still lacks a loyal voter base, but he could build up a broad spectrum of allies and appears to have calculated that he has a serious shot at the presidency.
Now aged 53, he remains in favour with many Western diplomats who admired his energetic campaigning and dignified conduct during the last election.
In 2009, the Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) threw out around a third of the votes -- about half a million -- cast for Karzai, sparking the run-off from which Abdullah ultimately withdrew "in the best interests of the nation".
Nominations for the presidential race close on Sunday, with former finance minister Ashraf Ghani the only other big name to have so far declared.