Karzai takes control of election watchdog

KABUL: Afghan President Hamid Karzai has changed a law to give himself full control of a key election watchdog, in a move that has raised concerns in the West.

The amendment to the electoral law allows Karzai to appoint all five members of the Electoral Complaints Commission, a body which threw out more than half a million votes cast for him in last year’s fraud-tainted poll. Under the previous law, three of the five ECC members were appointed by the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan.

In the August election, the ECC threw out around one third or half a million votes cast for Karzai as fraudulent.

The move sparked a run-off that was cancelled when his only rival, Abdullah Abdullah, pulled out, accusing the Independent Election Commission (IEC) — also appointed by Karzai — of bias. “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,” Karzai’s spokesman Siamak Herawi told AFP on Tuesday.

“Some articles of the law were amended and the president signed and approved it,” Herawi said.

Asked who would appoint the panel under the new law, he said: “The president.” Afghanistan’s second-ever presidential election descended into farce and held the country in the grip of political stasis for months before Karzai was declared president by the IEC and finally took office in November.

Britain, which has 9,500 service personnel in Afghanistan, reacted to the watchdog move by calling on the government in Kabul to ensure electoral bodies are independent.

“It is vital that the Afghan government learns the lessons from the 2009

elections as it works

with the international

community to prepare the 2010 parliamentary elections,” a spokesman for the Foreign Office said.

“We will continue to work with the UN and the Afghan government to take all necessary steps to help deliver independent Afghan electoral institutions.” The Afghan government has postponed to September parliamentary elections originally scheduled for May, amid calls for electoral reform and concerns about rampant corruption.