Mr Ghani has expressed frustration over the slow pace of reform
Ashraf Ghani, one of the two main challengers to President Hamid Karzai, is a former World Bank academic who carved out a respected international career during decades in exile.
The former finance minister has called his campaign "A New Beginning". He argues that he has a moral obligation to stand in the election and offer his country an alternative to years of corruption and misrule.
His most significant achievement as finance minister was the creation of the National Solidarity Programme, a project aimed at empowering the rural poor who comprise the bulk of Afghan society.
Mr Ghani, 60, is an independent candidate who played a key role in the reconstruction of Afghanistan, primarily in his position as special adviser to the former UN secretary-general's Special Envoy to Afghanistan, Lakhdar Brahimi.
Mr Ghani says that Afghanistan is the victim of poor governance
The academic returned to Afghanistan after the US-led invasion removed the Taliban in 2001.
He worked as the Afghan finance minister between 2002 and 2004, before he became chancellor of Kabul University. He has also been a leading scholar of anthropology and held senior positions in the World Bank.
He is an ethnic Pashtun born in Kabul. He attended the elite Habibia High School in Kabul before continuing his studies at the American University in Beirut, where he received his degree in 1973.
Mr Ghani has produced a document listing the key threats to progress in the country as: Al-Qaeda, the insurgency, narcotics, poor governance and corruption.
"This is a government of corruption, violation of the human rights, continued violence, waste of public resources," he told the AFP in a recent interview.
Born near Kabul in 1949, he has led a life of prolonged absences from his country. He left in 1977 to do a master's degree in anthropology, but was prevented from returning by the Soviet invasion two years later and ensuing years of war.
During his time in exile, he not only completed his studies but also was appointed to various academic positions at top US universities.
After the fall of the Taliban, he was speedily recruited into international efforts to help his destitute and shattered nation.
In 2006 Mr Ghani was in the running to be UN secretary general.
His campaign to become president in 2009 has focused on poverty alleviation, which he believes commands huge support, especially among the rural poor.
"They know my voice," Ghani said of Afghan voters. "The only person who has addressed the issues of rural Afghanistan has been me. You put me in front of any rural village in Afghanistan and see who connects to who."
Correspondents say that Mr Ghani has run one of the most sophisticated out of the various presidential campaigns. His website describes him as the "most qualified candidate".
His vision - contained in a 20-year development plan - is to provide "one million dwelling units, one million jobs, 10,000 megawatts of electricity, the opening up of central Afghanistan, an agriculture where we raise our income per capita from one dollar a day to four dollars a day".
Mr Ghani also lays great emphasis on boosting the economy and creating jobs, arguing that rampant unemployment is one of the key reasons for the Taliban's insurgency which relies on the recruitment of young men.
"In two years, my goal would be that 60 percent of the population will be saying that things are going in the right direction," he told AFP.
Mr Ghani gave up his US citizenship to run in the election and has two children with his Lebanese wife.