By Army Staff Sgt. Michael J. Carden
American Forces Press Service
March 3, 2009 - Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai's sudden call to move up the country's elections from late summer to early spring may be in response to a concern regarding the legitimacy of his office after his term ends, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said today. "I think it's a legitimate concern ... on the part of President Karzai," Gates said at a Pentagon news conference. "And I think the international community, as well as the different elements in the Afghan government and parliament, are trying to figure out the right way forward here."
Karzai released a decree Feb. 28 directing the election commission to set a date that adheres to the constitution, which calls for a vote 30 to 60 days before May 22.
Despite outcries from Afghan political opponents that Karzai is trying to leverage an advantage for re-election, Gates said he understands that Karzai may be concerned about the appearance and legitimacy of his office after May 22, the day his five-year term as president officially ends.
"I think that President Karzai is trying to deal with the reality that the Afghan constitution says that his term of office is over on May 22," Gates said. "He is very concerned about, if he remains as president after that time, a concern about the appearance, at least the appearance, if not the reality of illegitimacy in that office."
However, Gates said he believes fair, free and secure elections will be difficult to arrange before the Aug. 20 date that was set by the country's election commission.
Gates didn't specify how the void between the end of Karzai's term and the scheduled elections would be filled, but he disregarded the notion that Afghanistan will be without a legitimate government.
"I believe that there will be a government in Afghanistan after May 22 that has legitimacy and has support for that legitimacy from different elements of the country and government," he said.