KABUL: Afghanistan has postponed its crucial presidential elections by three months as the US pushes for a breakthrough in talks with Taliban insurgents.
A spokesman for the government’s Independent Election Commission (IEC) said the delay until July 20 will allow poll reforms and preparations for the ballot to be put in place.
“It makes sense to delay the presidential elections by three months. We have a budget problem and the July weather will be better for transporting election-related material,” Abdul Aziz Ibrahimi told Arab News.
District and provincial council elections, and a ballot for the parliamentary poll will be held at the same time following the postponement.
The IEC was widely criticized by watchdog groups, voters and candidates following chaotic parliamentary elections in October when scores of voters and police lost their lives in Taliban attacks.
Polling was delayed in Ghazni and Kandahar, and the commission failed to release initial election results on time.
Only one presidential candidate has registered since the IEC announced its registration process for nominees a week ago.
Election fraud and security are key concerns for the coming poll.
Political maneuvring has intensified in Kabul in recent months with the approach of the election, in which President Ashraf Ghani is expected to seek a second five-year term.
Haroon Chakhansuri, a spokesman for Ghani, welcomed the poll delay, saying the government was prepared for any kind of cooperation with the IEC.
However, Haneef Atmar, a former national security adviser who stepped down over differences with the Afghan leader and is seen as his main rival, has voiced opposition to the postponement.
In a statement, Atmar accused the government of trying to manipulate the vote in Ghani’s favor.
The government’s interference in the election process “will cause a widespread crisis in the country,” he said.
Claims that Ghani has sidelined his staunchest critics is blocking their attempts to enter parliament have also been denied by the government.
Fazl Ahmad Mawani, a former IEC chief, told Arab News that the poll delay was linked to Washington’s efforts to hold successful talks with the Taliban. A vote in July would allow the Taliban to take part in the poll.
US diplomats have held at least three rounds of talks with the Taliban in Doha and the United Arab Emirates, exploring options to end the 17-year war which began with US-led forces ousting the extremists from power.
Washington’s special envoy who is leading the talks with Taliban has spoken about his desire to see the elections postponed.
The polls are crucial for the future of Afghanistan following four decades of war and foreign intervention, with tribal rifts now more serious than at any other time of the war.