Afghan commission postpones parliamentary vote
Afghanistan's independent election commission has confirmed it is postponing parliamentary elections until the fall due to a lack of funding, security concerns and logistical challenges, AP reported.
Commissioner Fazel Ahmed Manawi also told reporters Sunday the delay will allow time for electoral reforms - a move likely to please Western countries pressing for changes after a fraud-marred presidential poll.
Manawi says the vote, which had been scheduled for May 22, will be held on Sept. 18 instead.
U.S. lawmakers and other critics had pressed for a delay in the wake of last August's disputed presidential election, warning that holding the vote without substantive electoral reform could undermine support for U.S. aid to Afghanistan. THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.
KABUL (AP) - Parliamentary elections scheduled for May 22 will be postponed until the fall, an Afghan official involved in the process said Sunday - a move that is likely to be welcomed by Western countries pressing for reforms after a fraud-marred presidential poll.
The Afghan official said the Independent Election Commission made the decision because it lacks the $120 million needed to pay for the vote.
The official said the elections will be held on Sept. 18 instead. A Western diplomat confirmed the vote is to be postponed.
Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity in exchange for releasing the information ahead of a formal announcement expected later Sunday.
The U.N. and donor countries wanted more time to implement reforms after a fraud-marred presidential poll last year that re-elected Hamid Karzai as the leader of the insurgency-wracked country.
Ali Najafi, head of the election commission, has said the commission needs about $50 million from the international community to meet the election's estimated budget of $120 million.
Karzai had insisted the constitution, which specifies the elections be held by May, must be observed.
But U.S. lawmakers and other critics had pressed for a delay in the wake of last August's disputed presidential election, warning that holding the vote without substantive electoral reform could undermine support for U.S. aid to Afghanistan.
Chief U.N. envoy Kai Eide said earlier this month that there is a provision in Afghan law that permits the elections to be postponed for a few months.
The August presidential vote was so tarnished that U.N.-backed fraud investigators threw out more than a million ballots - enough to force Karzai into a second-round vote. The runoff was later canceled when Karzai's top challenger, former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, dropped out.
Another flawed vote would erode support for Karzai's government at a time when he has pledged to battle corruption and improve services. Some nations also are concerned that having to guard polling stations in May would be a distraction for the 30,000 U.S. reinforcements and thousands of other foreign troops recently deployed with orders to stall the Taliban's momentum.
A suicide bomber in southern Helmand province targeted U.S. troops in a market Saturday, killing two Afghan children, officials said.
The U.S. military has already announced that two U.S. service members were killed Saturday in a bombing in southern Afghanistan, but did not specify if it was the same attack, pending notification of their families.
Helmand government spokesman Daoud Ahmadi said the bomber was targeting U.S. troops on a foot patrol and three civilians also were wounded in the attack in the Khan Neshin district.
NATO said in a statement that the two civilians killed were children.