KABUL, Afghanistan – President Hamid Karzai (search) met with Afghan and U.N. officials Tuesday in an effort to schedule the country's oft-delayed national elections, and a decision was expected soon, his spokesman said.
A vote for president is expected by early October, despite the threat of Taliban (search) attacks and intimidation by warlords. It had originally been rescheduled from June until September.
"We hope and expect that the Joint Electoral Management Body will announce the date of the election today or tomorrow," spokesman Jawed Ludin said.
His boss, Karzai, is widely expected to win a five-year-term, though more than half a dozen challengers have said they will face him in the vote.
Ludin said members of the electoral board, half of which is made up of U.N. officials, joined a Cabinet meeting in Karzai's Kabul palace on Tuesday morning.
Originally, voters were to elect a new parliament at the same time as they choose a president, but officials say that the two votes may be separated.
As the possibility of holding the elections in September slipped, Afghan officials have begun to argue polls in the seventh month of the country's solar calendar, which runs from Sept. 22-Oct. 21, would be sufficient.
Ludin said that so long as the election is held during that month — called Mizan — it would not technically constitute a second delay.
Even with the new schedule, Ludin said U.N. officials have suggested a further delay and "will be presenting a few options to the Cabinet."
The parliamentary vote is far more complicated to organize because of the large number of candidates involved. Diplomats say one of the options is to hold it in November, though some Afghan political parties are seeking a delay until next summer.
The elections are supposed to crown a two-and-a-half-year drive to stabilize the country after a U.S. bombing campaign drove the Taliban from power at the end of 2001.
But the United Nations and some observers are concerned that anti-Taliban warlords who allied with the United States will consolidate their grip on the country after a failed drive to disarm them.
More than six million Afghans have registered to vote so far, Ludin said, out of an estimated 10 million eligible, reaching the level that Karzai has said is enough for the vote to be credible.
Still, registration has not been evenly distributed across the country. Election teams have yet to enter some areas of the Pashtun-dominated south rocked by a series of Taliban attacks on elections workers and voters.
In the latest reported incident, suspected Taliban attacked a school used as a voter registration site, shooting one worker in the leg.
About 30 gunmen opened fire late Monday evening at the school near Panjwai, 20 miles from Kandahar city, said Saleh Mohammed, the deputy chief of police.
Some 15 militia soldiers guarding the school returned fire, injuring several of the attackers and forcing them to flee, Mohammed said.