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Afghan President Accused of 'Sabotage' Over Election Date

The Afghan opposition has accused President Karzai of proposing an unrealistically early election date knowing that it's not possible.
(RFE/RL) -- Afghanistan's opposition has accused President Hamid Karzai of trying to sabotage the presidential election and leaving other contenders with little time to campaign.

On February 28, Karzai asked the country's Independent Election Commission to bring the polls forward four months.

The opposition, including members of the National Front, a group of opposition parliament deputies, said it would be impossible to hold the vote in April because of security concerns and harsh weather conditions, as well as logistical and financial issues.

Heavy snows and rains would make it simply impossible to distribute voting ballots in mountainous areas, the National Front members argue.

National Front spokesman Sayid Fazel Sancharaki said that "trying to save his own political career, Karzai is dragging the country into an emergency situation."

"In our opinion, if the government had the will to hold the elections, all necessary conditions would immediately be provided to hold the vote," Sancharaki said.

"But, unfortunately, the Afghan government doesn't have such will, and actually, they want to move toward an emergency situation -- not toward elections."

Karzai, however, has said setting an earlier date in April would adhere to the country's constitution, which calls for a vote 30 to 60 days before the president's term in office expires. Karzai's five-year term will expire on May 21.

No-Win Situation

When the Election Commission initially set the election date for August 20, citing security and logistical concerns and impracticalities due to weather conditions, opposition politicians said they would not recognize Karzai as president after May 21.

Ahmad Ziya Siyamak, a presidential spokesman, said that Karzai is in a no-win situation over the election date, as the opposition would criticize any date -- early or late -- set by the president.

"The National Front has always demanded the elections take place in accordance with Afghanistan's constitution," Siyamak said. "Now the president has decided the vote should be held according to Article 61 of the constitution, but unfortunately it is being criticized again. The [National Front] is not satisfied even when the constitution is being implemented."

Some Afghan experts say that by offering the unrealistic April date, Karzai wants to force his opponents to accept the initial election date and let him stay in office until August.

Presidential contender Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai has said that other candidates would also be put at a disadvantage by the earlier date.

"All candidates and influential figures have been trying to get ready for the campaign in the month of August, but a sudden change to the decision and holding the elections in the month of April will create certain problems," Reuters quoted him as telling Afghan television late on February 28.

Meanwhile, Afghanistan's international donors, who will finance the vote, have backed the August date.

The U.S. State Department issued a statement on February 28 saying the August vote "would assure every Afghan citizen would be able to express his or her own political preference in a secure environment."

The Election Commission had said the August date would give the Afghan and international forces dealing with the Taliban-led insurgency time to create a more secure environment to hold the presidential election. The commission has said it will review the president's request to set an earlier date.

RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan contributed to this report. with agency reporting