Afghan officials said Thursday they had decided to postpone the presidential election until August, saying they needed more time to prepare.
But opposition figures said the decision, which appeared to contravene Afghanistan's constitution, raised doubts about the legitimacy of what could be President Hamid Karzai's final months in office.
Azizullah Ludin, chairman of the Independent Election Commission, said his office had decided to put off the voting until Aug. 20. That would give election workers more time to register candidates and set up voting machinery, and soldiers more time to bring dozens of chaotic districts under control.
Ludin said the new date would allow the election to take place under more favorable summer weather.
But the constitution states that the president's term expires on the Roman calendar's equivalent of May 22. Fresh presidential elections, the constitution says, must be 30 to 60 days before the end of that term.
Referring to the constitution, leaders of the parliamentary opposition to Karzai said they would stop recognizing his authority after May 22. They called on the U.N. and Western governments to help them appoint a temporary president after Karzai's term formally expires.
“After May 22, Karzai's continuation will not be legitimate for either us or the Afghan people,” said Aqa Fazil Sancharki, a spokesman for the United Front, whose members control about a third of the 241 seats in the lower house of parliament.
A spokesman for Karzai said he would respect the commission's decision to delay the vote. Karzai, who was elected to a five-year term in 2004, has led the country since the ouster of the Taliban in Nov. 2001.
He has declared his intention to seek re-election, and while a number of prominent Afghans have said they may also run, only three lesser-known candidates have declared so far.
The election this year will come at an especially difficult time, with the Taliban insurgency challenging the government in many areas.
A U.N. spokesman said the organization had reconciled itself to the delay, given that there did not appear to be enough time to have everything in place by late May.