By Hamid Shalizi
KABUL (Reuters) - Afghanistan's presidential election will be postponed by three months to July 20 to give authorities more time to organise the ballot, election authorities announced on Sunday, following mounting speculation of a delay.
The announcement follows heavy criticism of October's chaotic parliamentary election, which saw problems ranging from roadside bomb attacks to malfunctioning biometric voter verification equipment, incomplete voter lists and huge delays at polling sites.
The timing of the election has also been complicated by talks under way between U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad and representatives of the Taliban aimed at launching a full peace process to end the war in Afghanistan.
The election was originally scheduled for April 20 but Gula Jan Abdul Bade Sayad, chairman of the Independent Election Commission (IEC) said mounting problems had forced a delay.
"April will be very difficult because of the harsh winter and transporting election materials, security, and the budget issues", Sayad told a news conference in Kabul.
"To better prepare for the vote, we have decided to hold the election in July next year," he added.
President Ashraf Ghani had previously insisted that the election would go ahead on time but Shahhussain Murtazawi, a spokesman for the presidential palace said the government welcomed the decision by the IEC.
The delay adds to the troubled history of elections in Afghanistan. Before last October's tumultuous parliamentary election, for which complete results have still not been announced, the 2014 presidential election was tainted by accusations of massive cheating on both sides.
Political manoeuvring has intensified in Kabul in recent months with the approach of the election, in which Ghani is expected to seek a second five-year term. He is expected to be running against candidates including his former national security adviser Hanif Atmar and current government Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah.
According to Afghan media reports last week, Khalilzad was considering asking the Kabul government to delay the election by several months and prioritise the peace process.
Ghani's government has so far been shut out of the process by the Taliban's refusal to talk to what they consider an illegitimate, foreign-imposed regime, a position they reaffirmed ahead of the next round of talks expected to take place in Saudi Arabia in January.
Observers close to the Taliban have also said they saw little point in talking to a government that could be replaced in April although it remains unclear whether the change in date will lead to any change in their attitude.
The IEC has announced only partial results of the parliamentary election as recounting continues in some provinces, caused by the large number of complaints about the fairness of the process.
Sayad said parliamentary election for central Ghazni province that could were not able to take place due to a dispute over representation between different ethnic groups, would be held on the same day as the presidential election along with district and provincial council elections.
(Reporting by Hamid Shalizi,; Editing by Alison Williams)