Karzai relents—but only a little—on election watchdog

Two foreign members will assist ECC after fall 2010 election

Faced with an international backlash, Afghan President Hamid Karzai is easing off somewhat on his highly controversial bid to take control of the watchdog agency that investigates complaints about cheating in Afghanistan’s elections.

As first reported here last month, Karzai used a presidential decree to change the rules so the country’s Electoral Complaints Commission would no longer include three foreign members. His motivation seemed obvious: in last year’s presidential election, when the ECC was headed by Canadian Grant Kippen, the commission embarrassed Karzai by uncovering massive fraud by his campaign.

Karzai only avoided facing a run-off vote then when his main challenger, Abdullah Abdullah, dropped out, complaining that the incumbent president refused make changes necessary to ensure the balloting on the second round would be fair.

Given his own history with the ECC, Karai’s presidential edict last month to remove its three internationals looked like a retrograde step—backsliding in Afghanistan’s halting evolution as a democracy.

But his office told international media this past Saturday that the president had decided allow two foreign members on the edition of the ECC that will investigate the inevitable complaints following the the Afghan parliamentary elections slated for fall 2010.

However, allowing just two—rather than the previous three—foreign members means the ECC will now be controlled by Afghans, whose independence form Karzai’s machine is far from assured. As well, his office made a point of saying that letting even those two foreign members sit on commission is a one-time-only concession for this next round of parliamentary elections.

In other words, Karzai has relented only partially and temporarily. It’s not clear that this should be accepted as sufficient by Canada and other nations who are investing so heavily, in money and lives, to try to turn Afghanistan into a workable democracy.

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