Democracy International: special election court "ill-advised and illegitimate"
KABUL (PAN): The special election court that disqualified 62 sitting MPs last Thursday represents an attempt by President Hamid Karzai to “usurp the authority of Afghanistan’s electoral institutions,” concludes a report released this Friday by Democracy International, a US-based organization that monitored Afghanistan’s last two elections.
The establishment of the special court, according to the report, shows a “clear disregard” for Afghanistan’s electoral authorities as defined in the constitution and electoral law.
The special court, set up by an executive decree of Afghan President Hamid Karzai after allegations of widespread fraud surrounding the September 18, 2010 elections, ruled on Thursday that fraud had occurred in 33 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces and disqualified 62 of 249 sitting MPs—nearly a quarter of the house—on the basis of a vote recount.
Democracy International had the largest international observation mission in the country during the September 2010 elections, with 80 election observers visiting more than 200 polling stations in 19 provinces throughout the country.
“The point that we were trying to make in the report and in our press release a few days ago was that the electoral law and the constitution are very clear in defining who has the authority to oversee elections in this country, and it’s the IEC [Independent Election Commission],” Jed Ober, the report’s lead author, told Pajhwok Afghan News. Ober spent most of 2010 in Afghanistan as Chief of Staff of the Democracy International mission.
The Independent Election Commission last Wednesday emphatically rejected the special court’s authority to nullify the results of the Wolesi Jirga election, citing Article 156 of the Afghan Constitution. “Since it is the responsibility of the IEC to count the votes and declare a result, no other organization or institution can interfere,” the electoral body said in a statement.
The constitution details three instances in which a special court can be set up, “none of which are related to elections or electoral complaints,” according to the report. A special court can be formed to consider the impeachment of the president or the dismissal of the chief justice, or to take up the case of a government minister accused of crimes against humanity.
The IEC certified the election results on November 24, 2010 after investigating fraud allegations and ultimately invalidating 1.3 million votes, roughly a quarter of those cast. President Karzai set up the five-member special court on December 26 to further investigate remaining claims of fraud. Although the special court initially recommended that Karzai delay seating the lower house, Karzai yielded to international pressure and inaugurated the Wolesi Jirga January 24, 2011.
“The continued existence of the special election court hinders the ability of the parliament to operate free from intimidation,” said Glenn Cowan, Head of Mission for DI’s election observation mission, in a press release. “This ill-advised and illegitimate court’s recent decision to invalidate individual legislative election outcomes is potentially destabilizing and inconsistent with Afghanistan’s constitution and electoral law.”
The DI report says that Afghanistan’s electoral management institutions, IEC and the Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC), have improved their performance, independence and cooperation since 2009. “The IEC did try to implement additional fraud prevention measures in 2010 than was the case in 2009 but obviously they weren’t entirely successful at preventing fraud,” said Ober.
Democracy International did not observe the court-ordered recount on the grounds that the court itself was illegitimate.
President Hamid Karzai’s spokesman Waheed Omar on Monday said the government would not countenance any foreign interference in Afghanistan's ongoing political crisis, calling it an internal issue.
The warning came a day after lawmakers appealed the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), and expressed their unhappiness with the special court's verdict.
Ober, the report’s lead author, emphasized that the report represented only Democracy International’s findings and opinions on the process. “There isn’t a role for the international community in mediating this,” he said. “These are the kind of issues that emerging democracies have to tackle.”
He added, “The 2014 election is a really critical moment for this country.” The year will mark the conclusion of President Karzai’s second term, after which the constitution requires him to leave office. “For Afghanistan to have a peaceful transfer of power in 2014 I think will be really important to consolidating democracy here.”
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