Positive effects of new law on Afghan election

By Matthew Rosenberg

KABUL: (MEP) – With Afghanistan’s financial future riding on next year’s presidential election, President Hamid Karzai signed a new election law Wednesday, at least temporarily easing concerns that the vote could be significantly delayed or put off indefinitely, post-gazette reported.

Until the end of last week, there were widespread concerns among U.S. and European diplomats, whose countries bankroll the Afghan government and security forces that a pair of election laws crucial to next year’s vote would not be passed before Parliament adjourned for the summer. That would have made the current timetable, which calls for an election in April, nearly impossible to meet.

Instead, Parliament passed both laws in the past few days. Mr. Karzai on Wednesday signed the one widely expected to be the most contentious for him: It lays out the composition and rules for Afghanistan’s election commission and a separate commission to adjudicate complaints about voter fraud and other irregularities. Afghan and Western officials said they expected the second law, which governs how the vote will be held, to be signed soon enough to avoid scheduling problems.

A successful election is seen as vital to Afghanistan’s stability, and U.S. and European diplomats have warned that billions of dollars in aid will not materialize unless the vote is credible. A flawed vote could also make it difficult for the United States and its allies to continue training and financing the Afghan army and police after the NATO combat mission here ends next year, they said.

At the same time, Afghanistan’s backers have made clear that the vote is an Afghan affair, and they have set a low bar for credibility. The benchmark most often cited is an election “acceptable” to the Afghan people — that is, a vote that does not result in a crisis just as the U.S.-led coalition is wrapping up its operations.

Yet squabbling over the election laws between Mr. Karzai and his political opponents during the past eight months had raised early doubts that Afghanistan could meet even that low standard.

Wednesday’s signing of the so-called structural law appeared to have helped assuage those concerns, offering a bright spot in the often-grim assessments of the prospects for Afghan democracy in the coming years.

Ahmad Nader Nadery, who heads the Free and Fair Election Foundation of Afghanistan, an independent watchdog group, said the structural law’s signing “is an encouraging development. It comes late, but finally, despite all the opposition to this law from the government. … Now, the challenge is to make sure this law gets properly implemented.”

The complaints commission, in particular, had been a source of serious dispute that at one point threatened to scuttle the new law. That would have left Afghanistan holding the vote under the same presidential decrees used to govern the 2009 presidential election, which was marred by widespread fraud and set off months of political crisis.

Mr. Karzai did not want the complaints commission at all, viewing it as the source of his problems in 2009, when it disqualified hundreds of thousands of votes, forcing him into a runoff. But the opposition insisted that the commission remain in place, and it also wanted at least two of its five members to be foreigners appointed by the United Nations.

An earlier draft of the election law was vetoed by Mr. Karzai because of the dispute over the complaints commission. But, as pressure from the United States and Europe mounted in recent months, a compromise was struck: The commission would be written into the law, but it would include only Afghans. It could, however, hire foreign technical experts to assist the commissioners.

Apart from selecting members of the election and complaints commissions, the next major step is the nominations of candidates, who are supposed to begin registering in September.

There are no clear front-runners going in, and Mr. Karzai has not signaled whom, if anyone, he might throw his support behind, despite persistent rumors that the hopefuls include his brother Qayum, the New York Times.

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