Political opponents of Afghan President Hamid Karzai are rejecting his decree that presidential elections now scheduled for August should instead be moved up to April. There are widespread fears the government will not be prepared to hold early polls or ensure their security.
President Karzai's rivals swiftly denounced his call for early polls as a thinly-disguised maneuver to boost his political power and undercut opponents.
The main opposition party called it an attempt to bring the country to a state of emergency. Other politicians said it gave them no time to properly campaign.
Government spokesman Waheed Omer tells VOA that Mr. Karzai simply wants to ensure the polls are carried out in accordance with the constitution, which calls for elections no later than April 21, one month before Mr. Karzai's term ends.
"The president had to wait for election commission to announce a date. Once that decision was announced, and it turned out to be the 20 of August, the president then thought he would have to take a stand against it," said Omer.
While the end of Mr. Karzai's presidential term has long been set, there has been uncertainty over what would happen if polls are not held before he leaves office.
The election commission skirted the issue in January when it announced that because of preparation delays, winter snow and the continuing insecurity in some places, the polls would be held in late August. At the time, some opposition lawmakers criticized the delay as a political move by Mr. Karzai.
Since then, lawmakers have hotly debated whether he should remain in power after his term ends or step down, without finding a resolution.
Parliament member Daoud Sultanzoi says Mr. Karzai's announcement comes only after he realized that he will not be able to stay in office between the end of his term and the elections.
"He assumed that if he stays in power, the longer he delays the elections the more prepared he would be," he said. "But as soon as he learns that, based on the constitution, he can no longer stay in power, all of a sudden he changes his mind and tries to uphold the constitution."
The surprise call for early polls has drawn concern from U.S. officials. The State Department released a statement saying the U.S. government still supports the independent election's conclusion that holding polls in August would help ensure their safety and fairness.
Many of the 17,000 additional U.S. troops ordered to Afghanistan to help stabilize the country and ensure safe elections will not be in place by April.
The election commission has not yet formally commented on Mr. Karzai's decree. But an official told VOA the commission had considered Afghanistan's security, weather and logistical problems before selecting the August date.