- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 1, 2009

KABUL, Afghanistan | Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Saturday backed off plans for an August election and asked the country’s electoral commission to set an earlier date.

The brief statement from Mr. Karzai’s office offered no new date for a presidential vote, but came after lawmakers said they would not recognize Mr. Karzai as president after May 22 - the expiration of his five-year term. The statement said the election commission should follow the Afghan constitution, which calls for elections to be held 30 to 60 days before May 22.

The commission in January said the presidential election would be held Aug. 20, but many members of parliament have said an August vote was not acceptable and that Mr. Karzai would be an illegitimate president after May 22.

However, international monitors have said it would be difficult if not impossible to hold valid elections during the March-April time frame because of security concerns, bad weather and logistical issues such as the distribution of ballots.

It was not immediately clear whether Mr. Karzai’s decree was political posturing to counter demands from parliament or whether he thought elections would actually be moved up.

Waheed Omer, a government spokesman, said Mr. Karzai’s decree asks the electoral commission to set a new date “that hopefully adheres to the constitution.”

“When the election commission set the date of August 20 for the elections, the president received a letter from parliament asking him to uphold the constitution and also asking the electoral commission to uphold the constitution,” Mr. Omer said.

“The president had a series of discussions with the Supreme Court, and based on those discussions the president has issued a decree asking the electoral commission to uphold the constitution,” Mr. Omer said.

The head of the election commission, Azizullah Lodin, said in January when he announced the Aug. 20 date that the security situation was not good enough for a spring vote.

Afghanistan continues to be plagued by militant attacks and suicide bombers since a U.S.-led invasion ousted the Taliban’s hard-line Islamist regime from power in 2001. The Taliban insurgency has strengthened in recent years, gaining more control over southern regions, and last year was the deadliest for U.S. troops since the invasion.

Mr. Lodin said the commission also agreed to wait for additional international forces expected to arrive in the coming months. President Obama recently announced that 17,000 additional U.S. troops would deploy to Afghanistan this year, and U.S. officials have said they would arrive in time to help secure the election.

• Associated Press reporter Rahim Faiez contributed to this report.

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