Afghan parliament vote confirmed for May

News and Press Release
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By Jonathon Burch

KABUL, Jan 2 (Reuters) - Afghanistan will hold parliamentary elections on May 22, just 10 months after a presidential vote marred by fraud and violence that dismayed the country's Western backers.

The date, announced by the election commission on Saturday, was the latest possible under the constitution but critics say it does not leave enough time to introduce reforms needed to avert another flawed result.

The commission said it was confident international donors would foot the bill.

"Today we are going to announce that the date of the election of the Wolesi Jirga (Lower House of Parliament) will be conducted within the constitutional framework on 22nd May, 2010," Daoud Ali Najafi, chief electoral officer for the Independent Election Commission, told a news conference.

The commission had prepared the budget for the vote and had formally submitted a request to foreign donors for funding, he said.

But Western embassies in Kabul have said they would be unwilling to pay for the elections unless certain voting reforms are put in place to avoid a repeat of last August's fiasco.

Asked if he was confident the West would come up with the $50 million of funding he estimated was needed, Najafi said: "Yes".

The total cost for holding the vote would be $120 million, Najafi said, but $70 million of UN-controlled funds was left over from the presidential election and could cover more than half that bill.

Najafi said the United Nations had submitted several recommendations for electoral reform to the commission but said some of those reforms were not its responsibility.

"Reform of electoral law, it's not in our control. Parliament should approve electoral law. Appointment of the election commission members, it's not our authority," he said.

Najafi said the commission had already submitted a list of names of previous employees who should be barred from working on the parliamentary election to the U.N.-appointed Electoral Complaints Commission.

But its head, Azizullah Ludin, who was appointed by the president, would retain his job despite calls for him to be replaced, Najafi said.

Voter intimidation by election officials as well as ballot stuffing was widespread during the Aug. 20 presidential vote.

Elections are a key part of Western strategy to stabilize Afghanistan, where NATO-led forces are fighting a Taliban insurgency.

Violence has reached its highest levels since U.S.-backed Afghan forces overthrew a Taliban government in 2001, accusing it of providing safe haven for al Qaeda militants led by Osama bin Laden.

Najafi said the commission had appealed to Afghan and international military forces to ensure security for the vote and polling stations would not open in unsafe areas.

People living in areas where polling stations remain closed could vote in other districts, he said.

Taliban fighters were not able to completely disrupt August's vote but their many attacks on polling booths, especially in the restive south, kept voters away and facilitated vote-rigging.

(Editing by Angus MacSwan)

Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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