Afghanistan Moves Parliamentary Elections to September, UN Welcomes Delay

Afghanistan’s electoral body announced yesterday that parliamentary elections originally scheduled for May 22 will be delayed until September. The announcement was welcomed by the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), whose head Kai Eide said the delay “provides time to make improvements to the electoral process based on lessons learned during the presidential and Provincial Council elections in 2009.”

According to Afghanistan’s constitution, the elections should be held in May, but the current electoral law allows a delay to account for security, financial and other concerns, and the contradiction between the two has yet to be reconciled. For now, however, the electoral law wins out. The elections are now set for Sept. 18.

A May poll looked unlikely even before yesterday’s announcement. The Afghan Government expressed dismay earlier this month over the hesitancy of international donors to provide funds and technical assistance for the elections, which would have come just ten months after the fraud-ridden and deeply divisive August 2009 presidential poll.  According officials from the Independent Election Commission, the reason for the delay is that the commission does not yet have the $120 million needed to stage the vote.

The governments of the United States and United Kingdom were pushing for a delay to allow for expected gains in security from the coming troop surge.  With the Taliban routed from areas they now control, more voters –especially currently disenfranchised Pashtuns—would be able to vote, they argued. Other European governments and international aid agencies feared that elections held at the high point of what is expected to be a bloody spring would leave dozens, perhaps hundreds of voters and election workers dead.  

Donors and NATO coalition members are expected to lean heavily on the government of President Hamid Karzai to reform the IEC in the four months between the original and current poll date. More than a million ballots collected during last Augusts’ presidential election were found to be fraudulent, and Karzai’s victory after an aborted run-off election against challenger Abdullah Abdullah deepened renewed international concerns over high level corruption in the Afghan Government.

Expect the delayed elections to feature prominently in discussions at the London conference.

Photo: Fardin Waezi (UNAMA)