Afghanistan's Supreme Court has ruled that President Hamid Karzai, whose term officially ends in late May, should remain in office until a new leader is elected in August presidential polls.
The decision has provoked an outcry from Karzai's opponents. Afghanistan's main opposition grouping, the National Front, on March 30 called the decision unacceptable and unconstitutional.
Other critics have suggested that Karzai could abuse his position in office, giving him an unfair advantage in the August 20 presidential election.
National Front spokesman Sayeed Fazel Sancharaki told RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan that the court decision was made "under pressure."
"Prolongation of the government is...yet another breach of the constitution," he said. "As far as we are concerned, as of May 21 the president, presidential deputies, and cabinet minister will not have legitimacy in their positions."
Responding to the opposition criticism, presidential spokesman Humayun Hamidzada called on Afghans to respect the high court ruling.
"In a democratic system, in a system which is governed by the rule of law, we have to respect views of our highest legal institutions," Hamidzada said. "And we invite all our friends, brothers, and sisters to accept the Supreme Court decision. This decision has been made for the sake of stability in the country, for the sake of preparation for proper elections."
Karzai's five-year term officially ends on May 21, and according to Afghanistan's constitution, presidential elections should be held 30 to 60 days before a presidential term expires.
However, citing logistical and security concerns and difficult weather conditions, Afghanistan's election authorities postponed the next presidential elections until August 20.
That decision has been backed by Afghanistan's international donors, but left open the question of who would lead the country until the election date. Opposition politicians have insisted that they will not recognize Karzai's presidency after May 21, and have suggested a caretaker could be appointed to fill the role of president from May 21 to August 20.
Karzai's popularity has been damaged in recent months amid an ongoing insurgency and widespread corruption allegations against the government.
Karzai, who was elected in 2004, has yet to officially announce his intention to run for another presidential term.
Among his potential challengers are former cabinet ministers Anwar ul-Haq Ahadi, Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, and Ali Ahmad Jalali.
The presidential election will be the second held in Afghanistan since the hard-line Taliban regime was ousted in 2001.
RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan contributed to this report