Afghan Poll Body Backs Karzai on Electoral Row

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Reuters

Afghan Poll Body Backs Karzai on Electoral Row

by
Sayed Salahuddin

Afghan President Hamid Karzai speaks at Afghanistan's Independent Election Commission (IEC) in Kabul April 1, 2010. (REUTERS/Ahmad Masood)

KABUL -
Afghanistan's election commission said on Tuesday it backed a decree by
President Hamid Karzai that limits foreigners' role in elections,
scoring him another point in a dispute that has put him at odds with
Washington.

The procedure of how to run the
parliamentary election, set for September, has emerged as a major bone
of contention in Afghanistan, prompting an anti-Western tirade by
Karzai last week that drew a sharp rebuke from the United States.

Holding a free and fair
parliamentary election is seen as a crucial test for Afghanistan which
is facing a resurgent Taliban, despite the presence of tens of
thousands of Western troops, more than eight years since the militants'
removal from power.

Karzai gave a speech on
Thursday accusing the West of perpetrating election fraud in
Afghanistan, and he appeared to go one step further on Monday by
singling out the United States as specifically to blame, drawing anger
from the White House.

U.S. officials worry that Karzai's anti-Western rhetoric could erode public support for the war back home.

Karzai is wrangling with
parliament and the United Nations over how the election should be run
and wants to limit the influence of foreigners on a fraud watchdog that
overturned his first-round victory in a presidential election last year.

In February, Karzai issued a
decree stripping the United Nations of the authority to appoint the
majority of members of the watchdog, allowing him to choose the panel
himself. He then partly backed down, saying the world body could name
two members of a panel of five.

Parliament's lower house
unanimously rejected Karzai's decree in a vote last week, but the upper
house refused to vote on it, apparently ensuring the decree still stood.

On Tuesday, Afghanistan's
government-appointed Independent Election Commission (IEC), which
oversees the running of elections, said it now believed Karzai's decree
had the force of law and would act on it.

"We will carry out our work and
programmes on the basis of the new law that the Justice Ministry has
sent to us," IEC chief electoral officer Daoud Ali Najafi said.

Najafi said he believed the
March compromise, under which Karzai would name two foreigners
suggested by the United Nations to the five-member watchdog panel,
still stood.

"It is the authority of the
president to name two foreigners and three Afghans," he said. "We have
asked the president to present the five people to us as soon as
possible."

The fraud watchdog became the
centre of attention during last year's disputed presidential election,
when its foreign members overturned Karzai's victory in the first
round, throwing out a third of his votes.

Karzai was declared the victor
anyway in November when his opponent backed out of a second-round
run-off, but the three-month stand-off battered his reputation in the
West.

(Editing by Nick Macfie)

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