Afghan curse

Afghan curse

A decree giving Afghan President Hamid Karzai the power to appoint all five members of Afghanistan’s electoral complaints commission (ECC) deals a big blow to the country’s fledgling democracy. It enables Karzai to fill the election watchdog body with loyalists. It was this body that drew international attention to the widespread fraud in last year’s presidential election, forcing Karzai into a runoff vote. Whether or not Karzai misuses power, democracy in Afghanistan is in jeopardy. The credibility of an election watchdog lies in it being a non-partisan, free from political control and manipulation. That principle has now been severely compromised. It does seem that Karzai is anxious to consolidate his control over the electoral process well ahead of parliamentary elections in September this year. A huge question mark stands against the legitimacy of his presidency thanks to widespread rigging of the presidential election. Will that be the fate of the parliamentary election as well? There is the likelihood of several parliamentarians owing their election to Karzai rather than the people. This could throw up a Parliament that is loyal to Karzai. But the decree is not just about Karzai’s growing authoritarianism. It could stand in the way of free and fair elections from ever being held in Afghanistan.

As controversial as the contents of the decree is the way the President has put it in place. Parliament is in recess. While the constitution provides Parliament with 30 days to reject the decree, it does seem that the decree is a fait accompli. According to Article 109, proposals for amending election law cannot figure in the Parliament’s agenda during the last year of its term. But constitutional experts are looking for loopholes to defeat the decree.

Hitherto, the ECC included three foreign experts appointed by the United Nations. That will now change. All five members will be Afghans and presidential appointees. Several western countries have protested the decree. While their concern over Karzai’s ‘power grab’ is understandable, their suggestion that elimination of the foreign component in the ECC will compromise its fairness is ridiculous. The credibility of the ECC is determined by the integrity and impartiality of its members. Their nationality is irrelevant. Afghanistan is anxious to Afghanize its institutions and in that context making the ECC an all-Afghan body is not a bad idea.

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