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Afghan Parliamentary Elections Plan Raises Concerns

Last year's presidential poll was widely criticized for fraud
Last year's presidential poll was widely criticized for fraud
Afghanistan's election commission has announced that the country's parliamentary polls will be held in May this year.

But with the country still stinging from a presidential contest in August that revealed significant shortfalls in its electoral processes, the government will face many of the same obstacles: violence, low turnout, voter fraud, and lack of security in rural areas.

And international organizations and Western governments are seeking revisions to the country's election law and tweaks to the voting process that would prevent a repeat of the problems that marred the presidential vote.

The commission announced on January 2 that the elections will be held on May 22, a few weeks before the parliament's current five-year term expires on June 9, in keeping with the country's constitution.

The May parliamentary vote will also bring the additional challenge of preparing for them in winter, a logistical nightmare in mountainous, remote areas.

Speaking after the government had initially announced its elections plans on December 30, presidential spokesman Wahid Omar told journalists in Kabul that any postponement of the vote would result in political crisis.

Election Costs

He said that the Afghan government is negotiating with international donors over possible funding for the $120 million process, while adding that Kabul is also prepared to pay for the election using its own resources.

"I don't think that the [parliamentary] elections should be delayed because of lack of finances. No logistic or financial problems should result in trampling over the Afghan law. As far as the finances are concerned, the international community has helped in financing earlier elections, and the international community should also cooperate this time around," Omar said.

"If we cannot raise specific finances for these elections, we will cover its costs from our internal revenues and the budget of Afghanistan."

Speaking on January 2 at a news conference, Daoud Ali Najafi, the chief electoral officer for the Independent Election Commission, said he was confident that the West would come up with the estimated $50 million required.

Afghanistan still reportedly has $70 million of UN-funds left over from the presidential election.

International media suggest that the United Nations, United States, and leading Western donors are pressing the Afghan government to implement election reforms -- including revisions to the election law and a compilation of voter rolls to prevent the type of vote fraud that marred the presidential vote.

Neelab Mubariz a spokeswoman for United Nations Assistance Mission to Afghanistan, told RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan in Kabul that the Afghan government has yet to formally ask the organization for assistance regarding the election process.

But she says the UN wants to see the election process reformed.

"The UN secretary-general's special envoy [for Afghanistan, Kai Eide,] has repeatedly urged fundamental reforms in the election institutions in Afghanistan to be carried out before the parliamentary elections. So we can pave the way for transparent and just elections," Mubariz said.

Experts suggest that the August presidential poll exposed problems and critical shortfalls in Afghan election law and processes.


Opposition candidates accused the election commission, which initially named Karzai the winner in the first round, of favoring the incumbent president because he had appointed its head and other key officials.

Following claims of massive fraud by Karzai's challengers, a recount threw nearly a million votes, reducing Karzai's margin of victory enough to require a second round against the second place finisher, former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah.

In the absence of a central voter register, multiple voting and multiple registration cards were common during last summer's election. Some media reports even suggested that thousands of voter-registration cards were bought and sold.

In the end Karzai was declared the winner after Abdullah withdrew from the second round, saying conditions were unfavorable for a free and fair election.

Experts suggest that addressing the problem by making amendments to the Afghan election law will not be possible by May.

Kabul University law and political science professor Nasrullah Stanekzai says following the Afghan Constitution is of primary importance.

"If we try to amend the election law we would be violating the constitution. If the West really want to implement laws in Afghanistan, then they should first respect the Afghan Constitution," Stanekzai said.

"If we start changing laws every day and keep postponing the elections because of political and technical concerns, I think, we would undermine the credibility of the Afghan Constitution."

Afghan experts warn, however, that the Karzai administration, the United Nations, and key Western donors need to soon agree on a firm parliamentary election plan, or risk seeing a repeat of the controversy and drawn-out process that tainted the August presidential vote.

RFE/RL Radio Free Afghanistan Kabul correspondents Hameed Pazman and Breshna Nazari contributed to this report
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    Abubakar Siddique

    Abubakar Siddique, a journalist for RFE/RL's Radio Azadi, specializes in the coverage of Afghanistan and Pakistan. He is the author of The Pashtun Question: The Unresolved Key To The Future Of Pakistan And Afghanistan. He is also one of the authors of the Azadi Briefing, a weekly newsletter that unpacks the key issues in Afghanistan.

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