Afghan media reports says incumbent Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, who launched his reelection campaign yesterday, will face 14 contenders.

The president is reportedly expected to encounter stiff competition, including several individuals who were once senior officials in his government.

Among them are Mohammed Hanif Atmar, 51, a respected official who resigned abruptly in October, Afghanistan chief executive Abdullah Abdullah, Rahmatullah Nabil, a former national intelligence chief who leads an umbrella of reform-minded political and civic groups; Zalmai Rassoul, who served as national security adviser and foreign minister under President Hamid Karzai; Ahmad Wali Massoud, a brother of the late anti-Soviet and anti-Taliban militia leader Ahmad Shah Massoud; and Noor ul-Haq Oloomi, a former army general and member of parliament.

Bloomberg says a wild-card candidate who entered the race on Saturday is Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the former anti-Soviet militia leader who became a longtime fugitive after being accused of numerous abuses and sanctioned by the United Nations and the United States.  He was brought back to Kabul in 2017 under a peace deal with Ghani that officials hoped would inspire the Taliban to follow suit. A polarizing figure, Hekmatyar is running as an independent.

Abdullah, 58, ran for president in 2009 and 2014 but failed to win either.  He had declared himself winner in 2014 after accusing Ghani of fraud and they were forced to form a joint government to prevent a political crisis.   

Abdullah is seen by analysts as a strong contender against Ghani.  

“Ghani, Abdullah and Atmar will be the strongest rivals in the elections because all the three have the support from the majority of people,” Abdul Shukor Dadras, a Kabul-based independent political analyst told Bloomberg by phone. “The three top candidates also enjoy the great support from the international community.”

The Taliban, which controls or contests half of Afghanistan, is a reportedly potential threat for the upcoming vote.  An added challenge is the ability of the election commission to address its shortcomings, with results of a parliamentary poll held last October yet to be announced.

The Afghan election, in which Ghani will face 14 contenders after five tumultuous years in office, is now scheduled for July 20 after being postponed from April.

The Washington Post says the race will be dominated, and in some ways overshadowed, by ongoing efforts to start peace talks with Taliban insurgents, who have so far refused to negotiate with Ghani’s government and insisted on dealing only with U.S. officials, while continuing to wage attacks across the country.