The country’s Independent Electoral Commission has set 20 August as the date for the elections, three months after the presidential term expires on 22 May. This has generated “constitutional uncertainty” over the President’s legitimacy after 22 May, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon writes in his latest report on Afghanistan. “There is no higher responsibility in Afghanistan right now than that of the three branches of government to find a solution to the constitutional issue in a way that ensures the existence of a functioning Government between 22 May and the inauguration of the next presidential term,” he stresses.He notes that preparations for the 20 August polls will likely take place during a period of intensified fighting, and says that the elections must be held in as secure an environment as possible, where the freedoms of expression, media and assembly that democracy requires are guaranteed as much as possible.While there are reasons to believe that security in Afghanistan may worsen, there are also some reasons for optimism, Mr. Ban states, adding that a judicious deployment of additional international troops to provide security for the Afghan people would be a welcome development. Despite the reports of violence and instability, there are also some key areas of progress that are “neither accidental nor negligible” and should not be overlooked, he says. These include strengthening Afghanistan’s own security services and efforts to lower poppy production.The Secretary-General also recommends a 12-month extension of the mandate of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), which is set to expire on 23 March, noting that support for the electoral process is particularly relevant over the coming months. 13 March 2009The Government and people of Afghanistan, as well as their international partners, face a critical test in 2009, as the fledgling democracy prepares to hold credible elections over the coming months, according to a United Nations report released today.