KABUL, Afghanistan -- The Afghan government announced Wednesday that presidential and provincial elections will be held in April 2014 -- a critical step demanded by an international community eager for signs of stability in Afghanistan.
The date, April 5, 2014, was hailed as proof Afghanistan was committed to a democratic path and would avoid a slide into civil war as international troops leave the country by the end of that year. The declaration by Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission went a long way toward dispelling fears that Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who is not allowed to run for a third term, might attempt to postpone elections indefinitely.
U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan James B. Cunningham applauded the announcement, calling it “symbolic of the aspiration of Afghans for elections which will be crucial for Afghanistan’s future stability.”
The commission said the date provides enough time to ensure the “transparency and integrity of the electoral process.”
Fazel Ahmad Manawi, head of the election body, urged the Taliban and other extremist groups to put down the arms and participate in the electoral process.
Some opposition politicians viewed the date with suspicion. Farooq Miranai, who ran for parliament in 2010 in Nangarhar province, warned that early April could prove difficult because heavy snowfalls might interfere with campaigns and voting. He also said if Afghanistan remains without an electronic national identity card system, the potential for fraud would stay high.
“There will be no legitimacy to the election,” Miranai said.
The presidential election in 2009 and parliamentary elections in 2010 were marred by widespread allegations of ballot tampering. International observers were troubled by alleged evidence of voter fraud by Karzai's camp.
Afghan opposition politicians and international analysts said they still worry that Karzai supporters might try using inappropriate measures to influence the election in favor of an anointed successor in 2014.
The International Crisis Group in a September report expressed concern that rampant voter fraud in the 2014 election could ignite a civil war and lead to the splintering of the security forces.
The international community pledged more than $16 billion for Afghanistan at a conference in Tokyo this year, but tied delivery of the aid to good governance.
Ongoing violence could also make the elections difficult in 2014. On Wednesday, 11 people were killed in two roadside bombings in Helmand province, and an additional six died when their car struck a bomb in Kandahar province, officials said.ALSO:
-- Ned ParkerPhoto: Fazel Ahmad Manawi, chairman of the Afghan Independent Election Commission, speaks to journalists during a news conference in Kabul. Credit: S. Sabawoon / European Pressphoto Agency