April 9, 2008 / 9:08 AM / in 11 years

Afghanistan's presidential poll set for late 2009

KABUL (Reuters) - Afghanistan plans presidential elections in late 2009 and parliamentary polls around the middle of the following year, the country’s election body said on Wednesday.

An Afghan speaks to U.S soldiers on the spot where Taliban fighters attacked U.S. soldiers with rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs) and gunfire the previous night in Tarnak Wa Jaldak district, Zabul province, Afghanistan, April 8, 2008. REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic

The election commission, the U.N. and President Hamid Karzai had proposed holding the polls simultaneously to reduce the cost and due to the prevailing security situation in Afghanistan, where the Taliban have made a comeback since 2006.

However, Zekria Barakzai, spokesman for the commission, said due to political disagreement among the parties and politicians in parliament, it was decided to hold separate elections.

“Unfortunately, we couldn’t find a political consensus on that issue. That is why it was decided that we will have two rounds of elections,” Barakzai told a news conference.

“It will be 2009 fall for presidential elections and for provincial councils ... and in the summer 2010 it will be for the lower house of the parliament ... and district council elections,” he said.

The 2009 election will be the second direct vote for the presidency in Afghanistan’s history. The first was in 2004 when Karzai, picked after the Taliban’s fall to lead the country in 2001, won a five-year term.

Foreign donors spent more than $359 million for the first round of presidential and the parliamentary polls in 2005.

Barakzai said donors will contribute funds for the next elections too, but he did not know how much and had no estimate for the total cost either.

The 50 year-old Karzai, whose government relies on Western funds and troops, indicated at the weekend he would run again.

Many Afghans criticize Karzai for rising insecurity and failure to end corruption and the war against the Taliban.

Many also complain that living conditions have not improved for years and the illegal opium trade has boomed.

Despite pressure from some of his Western backers to improve governance, analysts say Karzai still retains the backing of his main ally, the United States.

Karzai won fresh promises of long-term support from NATO at an alliance summit in Bucharest last week. NATO has a 47,000-strong force in Afghanistan battling a Taliban insurgency that has intensified over the past two years.

Karzai also faces pressure from conservatives to stem a wave of unprecedented freedom since the fall of the hardline Taliban.

Many of his rivals sitting in the parliament are factional leaders and members, accused of human rights abuses, who helped U.S.-led forces overthrow the Taliban.

Editing by Jerry Norton

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