March 29, 2009 / 4:25 PM / 11 years ago

Afghan court says Karzai president till August polls

KABUL, March 29 (Reuters) - Afghanistan’s Supreme Court has recommended that Afghan President Hamid Karzai stay in office after his term ends on May 21 and until elections are held on Aug. 20, Afghan media said on Sunday.

The constitutional dispute over the legitimacy of the presidency after May 21 has thrown the young Afghan democracy into turmoil and undermined faith in the system as it struggles to combat a growing insurgency by the Taliban.

The constitution says the presidential term ends on May 21 after elections are held, but Karzai, his Western backers and opposition leaders now all agree that the polls cannot take place till Aug. 20, the date set by the election commission.

Karzai said on Saturday he had written to the Supreme Court to ask for an opinion on whether he should stay in office after May 21, and Afghan state media said on Sunday the court had written back saying he should.

After receiving the court ruling, Karzai said he would consult with leading political figures, and if they could not agree on whether he should stay in office till the polls, he would call a national council of elders to resolve the matter.

U.S. President Barack Obama unveiled a new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan on Friday, focusing efforts on stabilising both countries so that al Qaeda cannot use them as a launch pad for attacks on the United States.

Obama ordered the deployment of 4,000 extra U.S. troops to Afghanistan, on top of the 17,000 who are already on their way. That will bring the number of American troops close to 60,000 around the time of the Afghan elections.

The presidential election is the key test of progress in Afghanistan this year, diplomats say. If it takes place successfully it will eclipse any failure, but if it fails it will eclipse any success.

Karzai’s rivals are worried that if the president stays in office beyond May 21, he will use the advantages of office such as access to state media and aircraft to give him an unfair advantage in the campaign.

Karzai has repeatedly said that above all he wants to respect the constitution and ensure the legitimacy of his office. (Writing by Jon Hemming; Editing by Jonathan Wright)

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