Afghan president names new election panel chief ahead of parliamentary elections

By Rahim Faiez, AP
Saturday, April 17, 2010

Afghan president names new election panel chief

KABUL — Afghanistan’s president appointed a new head for the country’s election commission on Saturday, replacing a chairman accused of ignoring fraud during last year’s presidential vote.

NATO, meanwhile, said two foreign soldiers were killed by a roadside bomb in volatile southern Afghanistan, bringing to 23 the number of foreign troops killed in combat in the country this month.

The soldier’s names and nationalities were withheld according to standard policy and NATO did not say exactly where Saturday’s attack took place.

Presidential spokesman Waheed Omar announced Fazel Ahmed Manawi would run the Independent Election Commission. The appointment of Manawi, who was a member of the commission during last year’s vote, comes as the nation starts preparations for parliamentary elections in September.

It was unclear if Manawi’s appointment would bring any major changes to the commission, which was widely criticized last year for not preventing or acknowledging rampant ballot-stuffing and inflated vote tallies.

President Hamid Karzai has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing on the part of the officials he appointed to run the election, even going so far at times as accusing international advisers of being behind the fraud.

Omar also declined to talk about any specific reforms that will be made and said there was no reason to believe the commission had not acted independently in the last vote.

“The IEC was independent previously. The IEC is still independent. And as far as reforms within the structure of the IEC are concerned, that is totally their authority, that is their mandate and we will agree with whatever reforms they propose,” Omar said.

The former head of the group, Azizullah Lodin, said earlier this month that he would not put his name in for a second term. Lodin said during the election that he briefed Karzai on the group’s discussions on dealing with fraud allegations, but said this did not represent a conflict of interest.

A representative of Karzai’s main challenger in the presidential election called the appointment of Manawi “a positive step.” Fazel Sancharaki said Manawi was known for impartiality when he was a judge earlier on the Supreme Court, and for being fair in his judgments as an election commissioner.

The U.N.’s representative in Afghanistan, Staffan de Mistura, told reporters it feels comfortable with Manawi’s selection.

“Of course we accept and we are doing so with satisfaction. Everything we hear is that the person chosen — Mr. Manawi — is a very solid person who we can all feel comfortable with,” he said.

Manawi is an Islamic law scholar who joined up with the Northern Alliance resistance under the Taliban and took part in meetings to help form a new government after the Taliban fell.

Karzai also appointed five members — three Afghans and two U.N. representatives — of the separate, U.N.-backed watchdog group that uncovered the fraud in the presidential election. The previous commission had three U.N. members, but Omar said the group will not be able to make decisions without the agreement of at least one of the international representatives.

Omar said international donors had been involved in discussions about the appointments of Manawi and the fraud panel.

“The international community is in the picture,” he said.

NATO, meanwhile, said its forces captured two Taliban commanders responsible for leading insurgent attacks and making roadside bombs in separate raids Friday in the volatile southern provinces of Helmand and Kandahar.

Searches also turned up weapons including artillery shells, incomplete homemade bombs, land mines, ammunition, rocket-propelled grenades and rifles, it said. A number of suspected Taliban fighters were detained for questioning, but no Afghans or foreign troops were killed in the operations, NATO said.

International forces also discovered a truck loaded with an estimated 500 pounds (225 kilograms) of heroin and hashish that had been set on fire in Kandahar’s major drug producing region of Registan, NATO said. It said a truck matching the description had earlier been reported as evading a security checkpoint, although it wasn’t clear how it had been set aflame.

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