Central & South Asia
Karzai allows foreign poll monitors
Afghan president says two foreigners will be allowed to monitor parliamentary election.
Last Modified: 13 Mar 2010 19:41 GMT
Afghanistan is under pressure to hold a fair vote after last year's allegedly fraudulent presidential poll [AFP]

Afghanistan's president has reversed his criticised decision not to allow foreign observers to monitor the upcoming parliamentary elections.

Hamid Karzai offered on Saturday to allow two foreigners to be part of the Electoral Complaints Commission.

Waheed Omar, Karzai's spokesperson, denied that the decision was made under diplomatic pressure but said the president made the concession because the country is in a "transitional phase" to democracy.

"The Afghan government has shown its readiness to accept two non-Afghans on the Electoral Complaints Commission and this has been announced to the United Nations," Omar said.

Afghan majority

However, Omar said the monitoring body - which is separate from the elections commission that administers the polls - would still be controlled by Afghans, who would hold a majority vote.

It was not immediately clear whether Karzai or the UN would appoint the foreign commission members.

"If there is no legal guarantee for the independence of the ECC, there will be problems."

Jandad Spinghar, democracy activist

Karzai has been under pressure to ensure that the parliamentary elections will be fair after last year's presidential election was marred by allegations of fraud.

Jandad Spinghar, the head of the advocacy group Free and Fair Elections Foundation of Afghanistan, welcomed the decision but said the nationalities of the monitoring commission matter less than how independently the watchdog works in the elections.

"It's good news ... but there are still concerns,'' Spinghar said.

"If there is no legal guarantee for the independence of the ECC, there will be problems."

Last year, the complaints commission scrapped one-third of Karzai's vote and called for a runoff.

Karzai was later declared the victor when Abdullah Abdullah, his main challenger, dropped out of the race.

New UN envoy

Susan Manuel, the UN spokeswoman in Kabul, could not confirm that her organisation had received Karzai's offer, but said Staffan de Mistura, the new UN representative to Afghanistan, was expected to discuss the issue with the president.

De Mistura, an Italian-Swedish diplomat who arrived in Kabul on Saturday to take up his post, is replacing Kai Eide, a Norwegian diplomat, who headed the UN Assistance Mission to Afghanistan (Unama).

Unama was established in 2001 after the Taliban rulers were overthrown.

De Mistura, who held the same post in Iraq, said he would focus on improving the stability and economy of the country, while respecting its sovereignty.

"Whatever the UN will be doing - and we will be doing what we can in order to assist both the stability and the socio-economic improvement of the Afghan people - it will be done remembering that it should be Afghan-led, Afghan-owned and in total respect of their own sovereignty," he told reporters.

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