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Karzai Takes Control of Key Election Commission

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has issued a presidential decree granting him control of a key electoral monitoring commission, allowing him to remove foreign observers from the watchdog agency ahead of parliamentary elections in September.

The decree, issued Feb. 13, allows Karzai to handpick all five members of Afghanistan’s Election Complaint Commission. Previously, three seats on the commission were appointed by the United Nations while the remaining two were selected by Afghans.

The Election Complaint Commission played a pivotal role in Afghanistan’s presidential election last August, documenting widespread voting irregularities and eventually forcing a run-off vote between Karzai and his main challenger, Abdullah Abdullah.

During a November interview with the NewsHour, Karzai was critical of international observers, saying, “The monitors, the observers, the U.N. officials, began to delegitimize the election before even the audit of the vote had taken place. Therefore we saw that as entirely political. And with an intention other than friendly.”

In a defense of the new law, Ahmed Zia Seyamak Herawi, a spokesman for Karzai, told the New York Times, “There can be Afghan and international monitoring bodies to monitor the elections of Afghanistan, but we are not going to allow the foreigners with high salaries to be involved in our elections.”

The move was nonetheless blasted by opposition politicians in Afghanistan. Mirwais Yasini, who ran against Karzai in last summer’s election, told the Wall Street Journal that the decree is “a huge blow to all the efforts to transform Afghanistan into a democratic country.” Abdullah Abdullah, meanwhile, said, “You can not live without an independent, impartial electoral body in the hope that democracy will take root.”

Western diplomats are still chewing over the implications of the decree while waiting on a translation of the text into English, reports the BBC’s Chris Morris. “The concern,” he writes, “is that even if Mr. Karzai has no intention of misusing the power to make appointments, it simply doesn’t look good, especially at a time when trying to entrench transparent democracy is one of the goals of the international mission.”

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