ISLAMABAD - Electoral authorities in Afghanistan have delayed by three months next year’s presidential election and it will now be held on July 20.
The head of the Independent Election Commission (IEC) said Sunday the delay would give his institution more time to fix technical issues and overcome related challenges “to better prepare for the election.”
The IEC chairman, Gula Jan Abdul Bade Sayad, explained to reporters in Kabul the election was organically set for April 20 but harsh winter, security challenges and financial constraints were hampering preparations and the transportation of election materials for organizing the vote on time.
He said the elections in Ghazni province as well as district and provincial council elections would be held on the same day as the presidential elections.
The unity government of incumbent President Ashraf Ghani, who intends to seek a second five-year term, has welcomed the delay though it had previously insisted the polls would be held on time.
Sunday’s announcement comes as IEC officials are still struggling to tally votes cast in October’s parliamentary elections mired in controversy. The polls were held in 33 of the 34 provinces. So far, the IEC has announced preliminary results for 31 provinces.
The elections in central eastern Ghanzi province could not be held due to insecurity and increased influence of Taliban insurgents in many of its districts. Election officials also cited a dispute over representation between different ethnic groups in Ghazni.
Criticism stemming from long delays at polling stations, faulty voter lists, malfunctioning biometric voter verification equipment and insurgent attacks to try to disrupt the October elections continue to haunt the integrity of the entire process.
IEC chief Sayad said his institution is working hard to fix the problems so the mistakes are not repeated and a fair presidential election is organized.
Some critics have linked the delay to ongoing talks between the United States and the Taliban for finding a negotiated end to the Afghan war. They say the delay would allow more time to U.S. special envoy for Afghanistan reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad, to jump start negotiations between the Kabul government and the Taliban to pave the ground for an election inclusive of insurgents.
But Afghan officials have dismissed those suggestions while the Taliban has ruled out the possibility of it engaging in direct peace talks with Kabul.
Afghanistan’s 2014 presidential election was marred by massive fraud and vote rigging, with both Ghani and his rival candidate, Abdullah Abdullah both claiming victories.
The tensions prompted the U.S. to intervene and mediate a deal between the two men that led to the formation of the so-called unity government in Kabul, with Ghani as the present and Abdullah as the chief executive of the country.