KABUL (AP) – Afghanistan’s president has agreed to reverse an earlier decision and allow two foreigners on a commission that will monitor upcoming parliamentary elections, his spokesman said Saturday.
President Hamid Karzai’s move comes amid pressure to avoid a repeat of last year’s fraud-tainted presidential vote.
Last month, Karzai signed a decree allowing him to appoint all five members of the Electoral Complaints Commission in consultation with parliamentary leaders and the head of the Supreme Court. The body previously had three U.N. appointees.
The decree was criticized as a bid to control the body ahead of parliamentary elections scheduled for September.
After last year’s presidential vote, the complaints commission ruled there had been widespread ballot stuffing and stripped Karzai of nearly one-third of his votes, forcing a potential runoff. Karzai was later declared the victor when his remaining challenger dropped out of the race.
Holding credible elections is considered key to establishing the legitimacy of the Afghan government, a main component of the new NATO strategy in the fight against Taliban insurgents who have gained ground since a U.S.-led invasion in 2001 toppled their hard-line Islamist regime. Government corruption is often cited as a major reason why many Afghans have turned to the Taliban.
On Saturday, Karzai spokesman Waheed Omar told reporters the president is now willing to accept some foreigners on the election watchdog body because the country is in a “transitional phase” to democracy.
“The Afghan government has shown its readiness to accept two non-Afghans on the Electoral Complaints Commission and this has been announced to the United Nations,” Omar said. However, he said the monitoring body, which is separate from the elections commission that administers the polls, would still be controlled by Afghans, who would hold a majority vote. It was not immediately clear whether Karzai or the U N. would appoint the foreign commission members. The head of the advocacy group Free and Fair Elections Foundation of Afghanistan, Jandad Spinghar, said the nationalities of the monitoring commission matter less than how independently the watchdog works in the next elections.
“It’s good news … but there are still concerns,” Spinghar said. “If there is no legal guarantee for the independence of the ECC, there will be problems.”
U.N. spokeswoman Susan Manuel in Kabul could not confirm the world body had received Karzai’s offer but said former U.N. chief of mission Kai Eide had discussed the adjustments to the complaints commission with the president before he left “to ensure the elections will be as credible as possible.”
The new United Nations chief of mission, Staffan de Mistura, arrived in Kabul on Saturday. “We’re sure he will be taking this up with the president in the near future,” Manuel said.