Afghan commission rejects Karzai, sets election for August

KABUL, Afghanistan — Afghanistan's Independent Election Commission Wednesday confirmed that the country's second democratic election would be held on Aug. 20, rejecting President Hamid Karzai's call for the vote to be moved up by at least four months.

The decision, however, failed to resolve the question of Karzai's status during the period between May 22, when his five-year term ends under the Constitution, and the election.

The issue will be the subject of intense bargaining between Karzai and his political opponents, who're likely to demand that he be replaced by an interim president or guarantee that he won't use his office to bolster his re-election campaign.

Analysts said that Karzai could try to extend his term by two months by asking the Afghan parliament to approve a state of emergency, but doing so could worsen the political crisis.

The wrangling comes amid a worsening Taliban insurgency, which last year reached its bloodiest level since the 2001 U.S. intervention that drove the puritanical Islamist group from power.

A suicide bomber killed himself Wednesday when he detonated a car full of explosives on the perimeter of the main U.S. military base at Bagram, north of Kabul. A base spokesman said the blast injured three U.S. civilian contractors.

The election commission's decision to retain Aug. 20 as the date for the presidential contest came four days after Karzai directed the panel to observe provisions in the Afghan Constitution requiring that the vote be held 60 to 30 days before his term expires on May 22.

Commission Chairman Azizullah Lodin said it was "impossible" to hold the vote that early because time was needed to allow U.S.-led troops and Afghan security forces to prepare for the contest.

Some 17,000 additional American troops are scheduled to begin arriving this spring to bolster the U.S.-led international force of more than 70,000 soldiers now in the country.

Lodin also said that spring snows in the mountains would prevent some voters from reaching polling stations, and international contributions to the $223 million cost of the election have yet to be received.

"We want the kind of election that is transparent, clear and with justice and in which people are able to participate freely," he told McClatchy in a telephone interview. "We appreciate that Karzai is respecting the Constitution. The problems our commission has have not been resolved yet."

Lodin said he presented his decision earlier in the day at the fortress-like presidential palace to a meeting attended by Karzai, parliamentary leaders and senior politicians.

A palace spokesman declined to comment on Karzai's reaction to the decision.

NATO's U.S.-led International Security Assistance Force, the United Nations and the State Department welcomed the Election Commission's decision confirming the Aug. 20 election date.

"This date will provide the time needed for the IEC with the support of the international community to make practical and logistical preparations, for candidates to campaign, and for Afghan and international forces to provide security," said special U.N. envoy Kai Eide in a statement.

Karzai issued his decree to move up the election in an apparent effort to force the main opposition party, the National Front, to drop its criticism of the Aug. 20 date, which it complained would allow the president to remain in office illegally for three months.

His order angered the front because it hasn't chosen its presidential candidate or prepared its campaign plan.


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