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Concern as Kabul moves to scrap election watchdog

07 December, 2012

KABUL: The Afghan government has decided to scrap a UN-backed election watchdog in favour of a tribunal that could give President Hamid Karzai more control over polls, officials said Thursday.

The controversial decision to scrap the Electoral Complaint Commission (ECC) was taken on Monday, but requires approval from parliament to come into effect. "After three rounds of meetings, the council of ministers, besides other amendments to the electoral law, decided to replace the ECC with a special election tribunal," council spokesman Rafi Ferdous told AFP.

The council of ministers is one of the top decision-making bodies in Karzai's administration and the new tribunal would be appointed by the Supreme Court, whose judges are in turn appointed by the president and endorsed by parliament. The ECC, made up of three Afghans and two foreign UN representatives, investigates complaints related to elections, which have been mired in fraud.

In 2009, the ECC investigated thousands of complaints in the presidential election, most of them related to alleged ballot rigging by Karzai's supporters.

The watchdog ordered ballots from 210 polling stations disqualified in a probe that ultimately forced Karzai to accept a second-round run-off, until it was abandoned when his opponent pulled out. Critics slammed the cabinet's decision which comes less than two years before Afghans are due to elect a new president in 2014, the same year that NATO combat troops are due to withdraw from the troubled country.

"The ECC has been the only institution within the government which has pushed back against fraud and helped improve people's perception of the election process," said Heather Barr, Afghanistan researcher for Human Rights Watch. "The Supreme Court is not specialised in terms of elections, it has no expertise, and there have been a lot of questions about the independence and the professionalism of that body. This is a worrying development," Barr added.

Ferdous, the council spokesman, said the bill would be passed to parliament next week for approval. But based on an informal debate Thursday, lawmaker Mohyeddin Mehdi told AFP that he doubted the draft law would be passed. "The parliament strongly opposes this. This is an attempt by the president to hold control over the election process," he said. "The Afghan people will not accept this. The Afghan people don't trust the supreme court," Mehdi said.

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