Monday, March 2, 2009

Q+A: Afghan elections: April or August?

KABUL, March 02: Afghan President Hamid Karzai has called for a presidential election to be held according to the constitution, which states they must be held by April 21 at the latest.
Here are some questions and answers about the polls.
WHAT IS BEHIND KARZAI'S ANNOUNCEMENT?
The Afghan constitution states the presidential term ends on May 21, and elections must be held between 30 and 60 days before that. The last date for elections is thus April 21.
Karzai and opposition leaders agreed last April, however, that spring elections were not possible as they would have to be organized in winter when much of the country is cut off by bad weather. The constitution also says elections have to be accessible to all.
The election commission set August 20 as polling day.
The same opposition leaders then said Karzai's rule would be illegitimate if he stayed in power beyond May 20, leading the president to call for early polls to retain his legitimacy.
IS IT POSSIBLE FOR ELECTIONS TO BE HELD BY APRIL 21?
In short, no.
Some 18 million ballot papers have to be printed abroad, imported, then sorted and distributed across the country. That process alone would take eight to 10 weeks.
The election commission needs to hire 170,000 temporary staff. The Electoral Complaints Commission needs to be appointed and staff hired. Aircraft need to be assigned to transport staff and materials.
Election candidates need to be registered and vetted to confirm they are not involved with private militias. Some four months were assigned for that process ahead of an August poll.
The names of the 4 million people who have newly registered to vote need to be entered onto the electoral roll. Some 80,000 Afghan soldiers and 80,000 Afghan police, backed by nearly 70,000 international troops, need to be deployed to provide security throughout the country on polling day.
SO WHY HAS KARZAI DONE THIS?
Karzai apparently wanted to silence his critics by calling for the constitution to be respected, and maintain his legitimacy after the May 21 constitutional deadline.
The opposition, disunited and ill-prepared for an early poll, will be forced to concede that elections are impossible before August and, being unable to agree on an alternative interim leader, will recognize Karzai as president after May 21.
WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?
The election commission whose job it is to decide the election date will probably not announce its response to Karzai's call until next week. It is expected to state that polls are not possible before August.
After the commission response there will be much political turmoil and debate, analysts say.
There is speculation Karzai might use the turmoil to declare a state of emergency, legitimizing his rule and both retaining and increasing his powers and the advantages of office as he goes into elections. Reuters

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