KABUL: Afghanistan’s presidential election will be postponed until July 20, an official said on Sunday, as US-led efforts to end the 17-year war with the Taliban gather steam.
The three-month delay, announced by the Independent Election Commission (IEC), comes after weeks of speculation that the vote would be put off to create more space for peace talks with Afghanistan’s largest militant group.
The presidential ballot was originally scheduled for April 20, which many observers had considered unrealistic given the IEC was still finalizing results of October’s shambolic and bloody parliamentary elections.
Provincial and district council elections, as well as a previously postponed parliamentary vote in Ghazni province, will be held on the same day, IEC chief Abdul Badi Sayyad told reporters.
A spokesman for President Ashraf Ghani, who plans to seek re-election, welcomed the new timeline. “The Afghan government respects the decision by the IEC and is prepared to cooperate with the commission in holding the election in July,” Haroon Chakhansuri said in a statement.
Official reasons for the delay included the cold weather across much of Afghanistan in April, the expense of holding four separate elections and the complication of deploying security forces to protect different ballots.
Organizers also needed more time to recruit staff, train them in the use of biometric verification devices, and resolve other problems that had plagued the legislative vote.
“Based on the lessons we have learned from the previous election and to allow time for reforms, we had to review the decision of the previous election date,” Sayyad said.
Sayyad said the new date and the decision to hold the four elections on the same day were reached after two weeks of “extensive talks” with political leaders, security agencies and the government.
Many Afghans are worried that Ghani’s fragile unity government would collapse if US troops pulled out, enabling the Taliban to return to power and potentially sparking another bloody civil war.
There also are concerns the presidential election, which will now be held in the middle of the Taliban’s traditional fighting season, could unleash a wave of deadly violence as militants seek to disrupt the vote.