Afghanistan's oft-delayed presidential election will take place Oct. 9, its top electoral official said Friday, but a parliamentary vote originally scheduled to be held simultaneously was put off until the spring.

The vote is seen as a referendum on the rebuilding of this war-ravaged nation and a test of the ability of Afghan and international forces to keep the peace. It will be the first direct election for president in the country's history.

Zakim Shah, head of the joint Afghan-U.N. electoral commission, announced on state television that the body "decided to hold the presidential election on Mizan 18" — a date in Afghanistan's calendar that corresponds to Oct. 9.

He said the parliamentary vote would likely be in April or May.

U.S.-backed interim President Hamid Karzai (search) is expected to win the vote for the top job, but he faces at least a half-dozen rivals in this ethnically and regionally fractured country. It is not clear whether he will garner the 50 percent majority needed for outright victory, meaning a run-off two weeks later may be necessary.