Afghan poll delayed due to 'lack of funds'

Western backers support postponement of parliamentary election

To the relief of Afghanistan's Western partners, the country's election commission yesterday pushed back parliamentary polls by four months, blaming inadequate security and a shortage of funds.

The elections, originally slated for 22 May, will be in mid-September, Fazel Ahmad Manawi, head of the Independent Election Commission (IEC), said yesterday. He blamed international donors who had failed to provide $50m (£30m) to pay for the election. "The foreign donors pledged to pay the money, but it did not come in time to hold the elections as planned," he said.

The US and UK have warned that another election marred by fraud and violence could undermine the international effort in Afghanistan, and UN funds for the poll were contingent on reforms being enacted. President Hamid Karzai had insisted that the elections must be held as planned, in accordance with the constitution.

The IEC's decision could help to remove one potential source of friction between the President and his Western backers ahead of a conference on Afghanistan's future in London this week. Some Western officials had voiced concerns that having to guard polling stations during May's election would be a distraction for up to 37,000 US and Nato additional troops being deployed with orders to turn the tide against the Taliban insurgents, who have become more powerful than ever.

The massive fraud in the vote in August last year forced a UN-backed investigative body to throw out more than one million phoney ballots – mostly in favour of Mr Karzai. He was eventually declared the winner after his main opponent, the former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah, dropped out, saying that there was no assurance that the fraud would not be repeated.

Afghan legislators have recently also called on the President to remove some of the IEC commissioners, who were directly appointed by Mr Karzai, before the parliamentary poll.

Daud Sultanzoy, a member of the lower house of the parliament from the southern province of Ghazni, welcomed yesterday's decision, saying the four-month delay was necessary to remove the "frauds" and "irregularities" that tarnished the presidential polls.

"There are so many articles in the constitution that talk about ... the security that should be provided to the people of the county so that they can cast their votes without any doubts of fraud," he said, adding that those articles "supersede the article of scheduling".

Kai Eide, United Nations envoy for Afghanistan, also welcomed the postponement. He said that the additional time would give the IEC a chance to "make improvements to the electoral process based on lessons learnt" during the presidential elections.

Mr Karzai is due to co-chair the Afghanistan conference along with Gordon Brown tomorrow. During the conference the representatives of around 50 countries, including the US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, and the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-Moon, are expected to discuss issues including the reintegration of former Taliban militants and the transfer of more security responsibility from Nato troops to Afghan forces. A draft communiqué drawn up in advance of the meeting sets out a timetable for Afghan forces to take "security primacy" in some provinces by next year.

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