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Karzai draws criticism for early election call

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According to the Afghan Constitution, elections must be held 30 to 60 days before May 22, when Karzai's term expires, but the IEC declared that elections this spring would be impossible. Large parts of the south and east are not under government control, making voter registration and voting difficult. Insurgents, who do not view the Afghan government as legitimate, have vowed to disrupt the polls.

Washington will be deploying at least 17,000 troops to the country by August, whom officials hope will be able to provide security for the polls. But most of them will not arrive by May.

A statement Saturday from the US State Department said "that elections in August... [are] the best means to assure every Afghan citizen would be able to express his or her political preference in a secure environment."

The government also lacks a funding mechanism for holding polls and relies primarily on international donors. IEC deputy chief Zakria Barakzai says that $223 million will be required. "Till now we have $100 million pledged, which means we need more time to procure funds."

Karzai's supporters defend the earlier date, saying it is in line with the Constitution, and that the country should have a strong head of state during the crucial summer months, when violence normally soars.

However, some analysts say that behind Karzai's decree lies political maneuvering. A spring election disarms the other candidates and gives Karzai a natural advantage, says policy analyst Mr. Mir. "Karzai wants to have the advantage of an incumbent when he runs. No one else is ready for this election."

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