Sunday, March 1, 2009

Analysis: Impossible deadline - BBC

By Martin Patience BBC News, Kabul
Afghan President Hamid Karzai's statement to hold elections according to the constitution does little to clarify what is a brewing political crisis in Afghanistan.

Last month, the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) announced that elections would be held on 20 August.
But President Karzai's presidential term, according to the constitution, is set to end on 21 May.

And that is the heart of this problem - what happens then?

Weather and insurgency
Who, in effect, would lead the country from May to August when Afghanistan will have no constitutionally elected leader? No-one appears to have any definitive answer.

It is into this cauldron of confusion that President Karzai dropped his announcement on Saturday.

By calling for the elections to be held according to the constitution, the last available date would be 21 April.

But almost no-one in the capital Kabul thinks that this is remotely feasible. The IEC has said as much, having pushed back the date of the elections to August.
In the north of Afghanistan, roads would still be blocked with snow, meaning some voters would not be able to get to the polls.

In the south of the country, there is a fierce insurgency being fought and there are real questions over security being good enough to hold an election (although this is likely to be the case even in August.)

And there are other problems: voter registration has to yet to be completed, all the likely candidates have not declared their intention to run and additional Nato troops to guarantee greater security have yet to arrive.

The single word you hear about April elections is "impossible".
President Karzai undoubtedly knows this, so what is trying to achieve by the announcement?
Some observers see this announcement as a clever political manoeuvre by the president. He can now claim that he has done all within his power to resolve this crisis.

Critics fear that President Karzai will then use this as a bargaining chip to remain in office beyond 21 May - when his term is supposed to end.

This, they charge, would be unconstitutional and would give him an unfair advantage ahead of the presidential elections.

'Back to the drawing board'

So what will happen next? For now, the ball seems to be back in the court of the IEC. But they have already said that elections cannot be held in April.

It is feasible that they will restate that the elections should be held in August.
So, who then would lead the country in that interim period?
Well, it is back to the drawing board, and a decision will ultimately have to be made by Afghan lawmakers.

But that will be no easy process - particularly in a country that is learning the ropes of a new political process and where there are deeply divisive interests.
Some Afghans fear that a political crisis could turn into a constitutional one - or something even worse - if this issue is not resolved in the coming weeks.

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