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Karzai Raises Stakes in Dispute Over Afghan Election Date

March 2, 2009 at 6:45 PM EST

TRANSCRIPT

JIM LEHRER: And finally tonight, Margaret Warner reports from Afghanistan. Ray Suarez talked with her earlier today about President Karzai’s attempts to change the election dates.

RAY SUAREZ: Margaret, welcome. What has Hamid Karzai done? And has it shaken up Afghan politics?

MARGARET WARNER: Absolutely, Ray. When he issued this emergency decree this weekend saying that elections should go ahead and be held essentially, probably, in the next month or six weeks before his term ends on May 20th, it caused complete uproar in Afghan political circles.

Now, he and the opposition have been locked in this struggle over the fact that his term ends May 21st, but elections hadn’t been schedule until late August. And there were good reasons for that. The U.S., which is going to provide the security, and the U.N., which is helping with voter registration and ballots, said they weren’t ready.

And, in fact, I’m told that Ambassador Holbrooke and General McKiernan — Ambassador Holbrooke being the special representative for Afghanistan, Pakistan, and General McKiernan being the commander of the forces here — went to see him and said, “August is the earliest we can do it.”

But kind of belatedly, the political opposition was saying, well, fine, but, Karzai, you still have to step down May 21st. We’ll have a little interim government, and someone from parliament will run it, I think the head of the Senate.

So Karzai essentially called their bluff and this weekend said, “You want to abide by the constitution? Fine, let’s have the election very quickly, in plenty of time before May 21st.”

So with that said, he doesn’t really have the power as president to order the elections to take place on a certain date. That is still up to the Independent Election Commission. So there are a lot more acts in this play to unfold.