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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 12 December 2018

Afghan presidential election may be postponed to July

Electoral officials still struggling to complete process of parliamentary election held in October

A worker stacks materials for Afghanistan's parliamentary elections in October 2018. Reuters
A worker stacks materials for Afghanistan's parliamentary elections in October 2018. Reuters

Afghanistan's April presidential ballot could be delayed by three months, electoral officials said on Monday.

The suggestion of a postponement comes as election authorities are still tallying votes cast in October's parliamentary election poll and dealing with thousands of related complaints. There are also fears that US-led international efforts to end the Taliban's 17-year insurgency through peace talks could be derailed by the April 20 presidential vote, which is expected to fiercely contested.

The ballot could be pushed back to July 13, officials from the Independent Election Commission (IEC) and the Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) told reporters.

"There are legal and technical issues that should be addressed properly" if the vote is to be delayed, ECC spokesman Ali Reza Rohani said.

"We have to see if the proposed new date of July 13 is practical and whether we have to hold four elections at once."

Presidential, provincial council and district council elections are scheduled to take place across the country in 2019.

The parliamentary ballot was held in 33 of Afghanistan's 34 provinces last month but still needs to be carried out in Ghazni, where voting was delayed following protests.

Under the constitution the presidential election must be held no later than April 22, but IEC chief Abdul Badi Sayyad said that a "practical timeline" was needed.

"The economic, security and weather situations are forcing us to make some changes to the timeline of elections," Mr Sayyad said.

President Ashraf Ghani, who was elected in a fraud-tainted poll in 2014 that was only resolved in a US-brokered power-sharing deal, confirmed earlier this month that he would seek re-election.

It is not certain who will challenge Mr Ghani, but Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, the de-facto prime minister; former national security adviser Mohammad Haneef Atmar, who quit in August; and former Balkh provincial governor Atta Mohammad Noor are among potential contenders.

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Last month's shambolic parliamentary election, which was more than three years late, was marred by chronic disorganisation and deadly violence.

Voting was extended over three days instead of one because of many polling stations failing to open on time, problems with untested biometric verification machines, and incomplete or missing voter rolls.

Preliminary results for 10 provinces have been released. Recounting is under way in Kabul, Afghanistan's most populated province.

A postponement of the presidential election would fit with US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad's hopes of the Taliban and Afghan government striking a peace deal before the summer.

After a second round of regional meetings that included the Taliban's political representatives in Qatar this month, Mr Khalilzad said he was "cautiously optimistic" for an end to the conflict.

The Taliban has stepped up attacks on Afghanistan's beleaguered security forces, causing an unprecedented level of casualties. At least 22 police were killed in a Taliban ambush in western Afghanistan on Sunday.