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Afghan Election Commission Rejects Karzai Request for Early Election

Afghanistan's election committee has rejected President Hamid Karzai's request to move up the date for presidential elections to late April. In a widely anticipated announcement in Kabul, the committee said it still considers August 20 as the ideal time for safely holding free and fair elections.

President Karzai provoked a storm of controversy this week after he called for moving up the polls by more than four months.

Both the United Nations and the United States strongly recommended sticking to the August 20 date to ensure the best conditions for conducting safe and fair polls.

On Tuesday, election commission chief Azizullah Ludin said the commission has decided to continue with that original date. He spoke in Dari, while a fellow commission member translated.

"Our study shows that if we conduct the election in the spring, because of the climate situation and poor infrastructure it will be very difficult to provide equal opportunity for all citizens to participate freely," he said.

The United Nations Envoy to Afghanistan, Kai Eide, released a statement praising the decision to reaffirm the August 20 date. Eide said it is critical the elections be seen as transparent and credible and the United Nations will do everything it can to ensure they are.

Last year Afghan officials across the political spectrum, including President Karzai, acknowledged the difficulty in holding spring elections, because of the extensive preparation that would have to occur during the harsh winters.

In January, the election commission announced the August 20 date. But last Saturday, President Karzai suddenly announced he wanted the election to be in full compliance with Afghanistan's constitution, which requires a poll before the president retires from office on May 21.

Political opponents of Mr. Karzai quickly denounced his announcement as a ploy to take advantage of the benefits of his political office during his campaign. They have demanded he step down at the end of his term.

It is now unclear who will be president between the end of Mr. Karzai's term and the election. Some politicians have suggested having parliament appoint an interim president until a new one is elected in August.