The Independent Election Commission of Afghanistan says the presidential election will be postponed to July 20 to give authorities more time for making preparations.
Gula Jan Abdul Bade Sayad, the commission chairman, told a news conference in Kabul on Sunday that mounting problems had forced a delay in the election, which was originally scheduled for April 20.
“April will be very difficult because of the harsh winter and transporting election materials, security, and the budget issues”, Sayad said.
“To better prepare for the vote, we have decided to hold the election in July next year.”
The announcement follows heavy criticism of October’s chaotic parliamentary elections, which saw problems ranging from roadside bomb attacks to incomplete voter lists and huge delays at polling stations.
“Based on the lessons we have learned from the previous election and to allow time for reforms, we had to review the decision of the previous election date,” Sayad said.
The official added that provincial and district council elections as well as a previously postponed parliamentary vote in Ghazni province will be held on the same day.
Elsewhere in his remarks, Sayad said two weeks of “extensive talks” with the government, political leaders and security agencies had led the commission to make the decision.
Haroon Chakhansuri, a spokesman for President Ashraf Ghani, who plans to seek re-election, welcomed the new timeline.
“The Afghan government respects the decision by the IEC and is prepared to cooperate with the commission in holding the election in July,” Chakhansuri said in a statement.
Ghani is expected to be running against candidates including his former national security adviser Hanif Atmar and current Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah. The 2014 presidential election was tainted by accusations of massive cheating on both sides.
There are also concerns that the upcoming election, which will now be held in the middle of the Taliban’s traditional fighting season, could unleash a wave of deadly violence as militants seek to disrupt the vote.
The timing of the election has also been complicated by talks underway between US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad and representatives of the Taliban. According to Afghan media reports last week, Khalilzad was considering asking the Kabul government to delay the election by several months and prioritize the peace process.
The Kabul government has stepped up efforts to convince the Taliban to end the 17-year militancy amid Washington’s failures on the battleground.
Khalilzad has said he held “productive” meetings in Abu Dhabi with Afghan and international partners “to promote intra-Afghan dialogue towards ending the conflict.”