Mon, Jan 25, 2010 - Page 5 News List

Afghan vote postponed for four months

CRUCIAL CONFERENCETackling corruption is one of the main topics due to be discussed at a key international conference on Afghanistan in London on Thursday

AFP , KABUL

Afghanistan postponed parliamentary polls for four months yesterday, days ahead of crunch international talks on the war-torn nation in London, saying it was not safe to go ahead amid a spiralling Taliban insurgency.

The announcement, five months after the presidential election descended into a ballot-stuffing farce, will deepen global concern that graft and logistical problems are undermining democracy in one of the world’s poorest and most corrupt nations.

The ballot, originally planned for May 22, will be delayed until Sept. 18, senior election commissioner Fazil Ahmad Manawi told reporters in Kabul.

The Independent Election Commission made the decision because of a “lack of budget, security and uncertainty and logistical challenges,” the official said.

Afghanistan has relied on foreign funding for elections since 2001, when a US-led invasion overthrew the Taliban regime and moves towards democracy began.

The commission had previously said it was short of around US$120 million to hold the ballot for the Wolosi Jirga, Afghanistan’s lower house of parliament.

But the UN has said it would need to see evidence of significant reform — including replacing senior IEC officials — before agreeing to release money to stage the election.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai was sworn into office for a second five-year term in November following a controversial election steeped in fraud, mostly in his favor, and marred by low voter turnout and Taliban violence.

Most cases of fraud during the August presidential elections were reported in areas rife with Taliban and other Islamist militants battling the government, and where Afghan security forces had little or no control.

Militants launched dozens of attacks, killing and maiming dozens, in an attempt to disrupt a ballot they called “an American process.”

Karzai’s administration had earlier called for the ballot to be held on time, pledging to fund the process if the international community failed to provide the budget.

His office was not immediately available for comment.

Manawi said low-ranking workers had been dismissed from the commission or moved to different jobs but added that “if you mean the leadership and commissioners, this the responsibility of the president”.

“The president has to decide,” he said.

Afghanistan held its first direct parliamentary election in September 2005. Under the Constitution the next poll was due to be held no later than 30 days before the end of the legislative cycle, which ends on June 22.

Manawi did not comment on what will happen to the current parliament after this date, saying the US-backed Karzai government was responsible for the decision.

Fighting corruption is one of the key topics due to be discussed at a key international conference on Afghanistan in London on Thursday, along with the security situation, good governance and reconciliation with Taliban fighters.

Karzai has promised to eradicate corruption, which infects every aspect of Afghan public life, as a condition laid down by his Western backers whose soldiers are fighting the Taliban to keep him in power.

But the Afghan government has yet to put together a comprehensive anti-corruption plan, diplomats and a government official said last week.

The London conference was called by British Prime Minister Gordon Brown after Karzai had already announced plans to hold an anti-corruption conference in Kabul early this year.

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