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A Step Forward in the Election Process

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The Afghan National Assembly finally approved the law on the structure, duties and powers of the independent election commission, ending months of stalemate on the crucial bill. The deadlock over amendments to the laws on polls and structure, duties and powers of poll panels had sparked concerns about the presidential election that is set for 2014. In past weeks, the government, political parties, civil organizations as well as the international community were stepping up pressures on the Afghan National Assembly – the Wolesi Jirga and Mishrano Jirga – to act fast on amendment of the law on the structure, duties and powers of the Independent Election Commission (IEC) and the Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC). The bill needs to be signed by President Hamid Karzai to become law.

The bill was enacted by the Lower House of the parliament, the Wolesi Jirga, about four months ago. The Upper House of the parliament, Mishrano Jirga, opposed the bill, suggesting amendments to two of its articles related to membership of two foreigners in the ECC and make-up of the committee that will select commissioners of the Independent Election Commission. For months, the two houses couldn’t reach an agreement on the bill which was considered crucial for arrangements of a fair and free election.

Approval of the law would pave the way for the appointment of the chairperson and some members of the IEC and the ECC. Tenure of Fazl Ahmad Manawi, head of the Independent Election Commission, has formally ended and a new chief should be selected to oversee the election body and lead the process of election. As the 2014 presidential election date is in sight, the electoral agencies are running out of time in preparing for holding a sound and transparent election. The voter registration is incomplete, facing many technical challenges. And the adverse security situation across the country risks a low turnout and closure of polling stations in parts of the country, potentially undermining the upcoming elections.

Approval of the bill comes at a time when the Afghan parliament is going to discuss election law. The decision of the law on the structure, duties and powers of the election commissions is a major step forward and a substantial progress towards holding a free and fair election. The bill limits government’s direct role in appointing the chairperson and commissioners of the ICC and Karzai’s influence on the election commissions. According to the new law, the head and commissioners of the IEC would be selected by a committee comprised of lawmakers, representatives from political parties, academics and civil organizations.

Such procedures for appointing head and commissioners of the IEC, on one hand, would build a national consensus to the management of the election process and make-up of the election commissions. On the other hand, it is expected that it would efficiently curb influence of the government on the election bodies and prevent manipulating the election process. Hopefully, this would ensure independence of the IEC as the main organizer of the key presidential election. Now, what is needed to be quickly acted on is approval of the election law by the parliament. As we get close to the election date, the clock is ticking and time is running out. The parliament needs to act faster.

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