KABUL - Afghanistan announced on Sunday that it is postponing parliamentary polls for four months, days ahead of crunch talks on the war-torn nation in London, saying it was unsafe to go ahead amid a spiralling Taliban insurgency.
The announcement, five months after the presidential election descended into a ballot-stuffing farce, will deepen global concern that graft and logistical problems are undermining democracy in one of the world's poorest and most corrupt nations.
The ballot, originally planned for May 22, will be delayed until September 18, senior election commissioner Fazil Ahmad Manawi told reporters in Kabul.
The Independent Election Commission (IEC) made the decision because of a "lack of budget, security and uncertainty and logistical challenges", the official said.
Kai Eide, the top UN representative to Afghanistan welcomed the decision, saying the postponement gave the electoral institutions additional time to carry out the necessary preparations for the elections.
"This would have been extremely difficult to do by the original date," Eide said in a statement.
"It also provides time to make improvements to the electoral process based on lessons learned during the Presidential and Provincial Council elections in 2009," the top UN diplomat added.
Afghanistan has relied on foreign funding for elections since 2001, when a US-led invasion overthrew the Taliban regime and moves towards democracy began.
The commission had previously said it was short of around 120 million dollars to hold the ballot for the Wolosi Jirga, Afghanistan's lower house of parliament.
But the United Nations has said it would need to see evidence of significant reform -- including replacing senior IEC officials -- before agreeing to release money to stage the election.
President Hamid Karzai was sworn into office for a second five-year term in November following a controversial poll steeped in fraud, mostly in his favour, and marred by low voter turnout and Taliban violence.
Most cases of fraud during the August presidential elections were reported in areas rife with Taliban and other Islamist militants battling the government, and where Afghan security forces had little or no control.
Militants launched a wave of attacks, killing and maiming dozens, in an attempt to disrupt a ballot they called "an American process".
Karzai's administration had earlier called for the parliamentary ballot to be held on time, pledging to fund the process if the international community failed to provide the budget.
His office was not immediately available for comment.
Manawi said low-ranking workers had been dismissed from the commission or moved to different jobs but added that "if you mean the leadership and commissioners, this the responsibility of the president".
"The president has to decide," he added.
Afghanistan held its first direct parliamentary election in September 2005. Under the constitution the next poll was due to be held no later than 30 days before the end of the legislative cycle, which ends on June 22.
Manawi did not comment on what would happen to the current parliament after this date, saying the US-backed Karzai government was responsible for the decision.
Fighting corruption is one of the key topics due to be discussed at an international conference on Afghanistan in London on January 28, along with the security situation, good governance and reconciliation with Taliban fighters.
The London meeting was called by British Prime Minister Gordon Brown after Karzai had already announced plans to hold an anti-corruption conference in Kabul early this year.
More than 113,000 international troops are fighting the Taliban under US and NATO command -- and losing troops almost daily as the war escalates on entering its ninth year.
Another 40,000 troops are being deployed this year, along with hundreds of civilian specialists to back military progress with development and aid to shore up civilian support for the Kabul administration.