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Afghanistan's Election Dilemma

The discussion surrounding the Constitutional prescriptions governing Afghanistan’s presidential election is yet another step in the growth of Afghan democracy. Articles of the Constitution hold that President Hamid Karzai’s 5-year term expires on May 22nd and it mandates that elections be held 30 to 60 days prior to that. The Constitution also mandates universal access to polls, a difficult achievement before May given Afghanistan’s weather and logistical challenges.

Afghanistan's Independent Election Commission, or IEC, had called for elections to be held in August. On February 28, President Karzai issued a decree instructing the IEC to set an election date in accordance with the Constitution. On March 4, the IEC issued a statement reaffirming their decision that given the challenge, universal exercise of the franchise can only be guaranteed in August.

An election held any earlier would not be possible, say the IEC and the international observers. Due to Afghanistan’s weather, much of the country is inaccessible in late spring. In addition, the Independent Election Commission pointed out the need for more time to prepare the polls so that voters can safely and fairly cast their ballots. There are also financial and logistical challenges that remain.

Voter safety is, in fact, a key issue. Allied military units, including 17,000 new U.S. troops, are set to arrive beginning in April. They will help the Afghan Army and allied troops already on the ground further secure Southern Afghanistan, creating safer conditions for the August election.

U.S. Department of State Acting Spokesman Robert Wood said that the United States supports the underlying principles articulated by President Karzai. But he reiterated the U.S. position that elections in August, as proposed by the Independent Election Commission, are the best means to assure that every Afghan citizen would be able to express his or her political preference in a secure environment.

Afghanistan is emerging from 3 decades of war. Its experience with constitutional democracy is limited, and in the past, disagreements have been settled violently. Yet the ability to resolve disagreement through the political process is the test of any constitutional system. To date, this has been the case. We encourage Afghanistan’s leaders to find formula within the constitutional framework for ensuring the continuity, legitimacy, and stability of government through the pre-election period from May to August.

State Department Acting Spokesman Wood said, “The United States urges all parties to work together toward these goals, which the United States supports. In this process, the United States will neither support nor oppose any individual candidate.”