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Karzai Election Deal Further Muddies Afghan Political Waters

Most sides agree that President Karzai's current term ends on May 21 under the constitution.Most sides agree that President Karzai's current term ends on May 21 under the constitution.
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Most sides agree that President Karzai's current term ends on May 21 under the constitution.
Most sides agree that President Karzai's current term ends on May 21 under the constitution.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai's office has announced broad consensus on a deal that calls for a presidential election by late April.

The statement says the decision follows an agreement among Karzai, national lawmakers, provincial and district councils, and mayors.

The surprise move appears aimed at putting an end to rising fears of constitutional crisis among the country's fledgling institutions over an electoral time frame.

But the announcement risks having the opposite effect, since it contradicts a recent decision by the Independent Election Commission that called for voting to pick a new president on August 20.

A commission source told RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan that the body is not ready for any snap elections.

Afghan elections must officially be called by the election commission, which is responsible for most of the procedural and technical aspects of the vote. In setting the August date, the commission cited logistical obstacles that included security concerns and access to remote areas during the country's harsh winter.

Karzai has already announced his plans to run for another term.

With security still a major concern in broad swaths of the country, the Karzai announcement suggests the commission would have less than two months to organize the vote.

The constitution says the president's term ends on May 21 and requires 30-60 days between the balloting and the swearing-in of a new president.

Even as it cited potential discrepancies with the constitution, the Independent Election Commission's recent decision to hold the election in August was generally well received by the international community, which welcomed the extra time to guarantee greater security in a country that is still wracked by a violent insurgency.

But the choice of dates set off a firestorm of protest on the Afghan political scene, and critics accused election-commission members of overstepping their authority.

Concerns mounted as high-profile Karzai rivals in parliament and even within his own government questioned the constitutionality of delaying the election.

Karzai reportedly has held meetings over the past week in an effort to emerge with an agreement among various political factions.

The holding of what is effectively a snap election is likely to unsettle or otherwise disadvantage Karzai's political rivals.

Some of those rivals were pressing for Karzai to step down in May in favor of a transitional administration that would serve until after the election could be held, presumably to chip away at any incumbent's advantage.

Karzai has led Afghanistan since his UN-backed appointment atop a transitional administration in late 2001, shortly after the U.S.-led ouster of the hard-line Taliban in response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

He was chosen as the country's first-ever popularly elected president in 2004, and is still considered one of Afghanistan's most popular politicians.

Karzai's popularity has waned in the face of a fierce Taliban-led insurgency, wrenching poverty and perceived ineffectiveness in helping average Afghans, and persistent corruption under his administration.

He has also faced tough criticism recently from Washington, where the new administration of President Barack Obama has signaled displeasure over the course of recent events in Afghanistan.

-- by RFE/RL's Central Newsroom with contributions by correspondent Abubakar Siddique

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