Moves by the Afghan president to take control of a key election watchdog have dismayed diplomats and analysts who said today there is now even less chance that future polls will be free and fair. The president Hamid Karzai has changed a law to give himself control of the Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC), a body that threw out more than half a million votes cast for him in last year's fraud-tainted poll.
The amendment allows Mr Karzai to appoint all five members of the ECC, whereas under the previous law, three members were appointed by the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan. A former senior UN official in Afghanistan Peter Galbraith said the West should withhold the cash necessary to bankroll future elections until the ECC is reinstated to its original make-up. The international community "should insist there should be a truly independent election commission, not one appointed by him", Mr Galbraith, who resigned over last year's fraudulent poll, told the BBC.
Unless the ECC continued to have three of its five members appointed by the United Nations, "taxpayers in the US and elsewhere should not be asked to pay for phoney elections", he said. Afghanistan's second-ever presidential election last August descended into farce and held the country in the grip of political stasis for months before Mr Karzai was declared president by the IEC and returned to office in November.
The election cost the United Nations $300 million and the ECC threw out about one third of the ballots cast for Karzai - half a million votes - as fraudulent. The move forced a run-off that was cancelled when the only other candidate, Abdullah Abdullah, pulled out and accused the election commission, which is also appointed by Mr Karzai, of bias. Mr Karzai's move, made in a decree last week, also sparked criticism at home, where political analyst Ahmad Sayedi said it "brings the democratic and independent nature of both bodies totally under question".
"The ECC will no longer be independent," he said. The move was justified by Mr Karzai's spokesman Siamak Herawi as making the ECC a truly Afghan body by removing foreigners and localising the electoral process. "With foreigners in the commission it was not a national body, nor was it an Afghan body. So to Afghanise the process, the president changed some articles of the law," Mr Herawi said. "Some articles of the law were amended and the president signed and approved it," Mr Herawi said.
Asked who would appoint the panel under the new law, he said: "The president." Mr Sayedi, referring to the parliament, said: "It would have been best if members of such independent bodies were appointed by the people of Afghanistan." The Canadian government said the move could undermine the credibility of future elections and "reduces the level of expertise of the Electoral Complaints Commission".
The Afghan government has postponed until September a parliamentary election originally scheduled for May, amid calls for electoral reform and concerns about rampant corruption. *AFP