Afghan President Hamid Karzai demanded that the country's presidential election date be moved to the spring, turning up the heat on Afghanistan's already simmering political tensions.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai has issued a decree demanding the upcoming presidential election take place in the spring - four months ahead of the scheduled August 20 vote.
Without specifically announcing a date, Karzai cited an article of the constitution that says the vote must be held within 30 to 60 days before the end of the presidential term, which is on May 21.
The commission had set the date for August 20. But Karzai wants the date moved ahead to sometime in March or April, which means he would still be in power during the election, according to some critics, so that he can use government funding for his campaign.
The vote had originally been expected to be held in the spring, but was set for Aug. 20 because of organizational and security concerns. However, the earlier date would correctly follow Afghanistan's constitution, which states an election is required 30 to 60 days before the president's term expires on May 22.
The decree has been presented in a manner that addresses constitutional issues, but at the same time, places his contenders at a disadvantage. Karzai's appeal has been waning during his five years in office. An earlier election date could also benefit from an earlier election date by having a chance to run against contenders who have yet to launch formal campaigns.
According to the Canadian Press, Abdul Qahir Wasifi, the Kandahar head of the election commission, said Saturday that he had no advance warning that Karzai wanted the vote moved. "I don't know anything about this," Wasifi told The Canadian Press. He would not comment on whether he thought the commission would deny Karzai's request.
Meanwhile, the U.S. State Department issued a statement saying it believes August elections were "the best means to assure every Afghan citizen would be able to express his or her political preference in a secure environment."
The Times reported that Karzai would call the snap election anyway unless a deal is made with the opposition allowing him to stay on until August.
So far 4.3 million voters — including 1.65 million women — have registered out of a potential electorate of 16 million people.
Western military forces in Afghanistan are already gearing up to maintain security during the election period, with the 17,000 American troops already announced by the Obama Administration. Nato commanders are looking for European nations to provide 10,000 extra soldiers for the vote. Brig.-Gen. Jon Vance, commander of Canadian forces in Kandahar, said that security needs wouldn't necessarily change if a new date were chosen for the election.