Karzai dismisses opposition calls to sack election official

Presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah has demanded Afghanistan's Independent Election Commission (IEC) chief be sacked ahead of a Nov. 7 run-off vote, claiming he is biased in favour of the incumbent president, Hamid Karzai (pictured).


AFP - Presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah demanded on Monday the firing of Afghanistan's Independent Election Commission (IEC) chief and suspension of three cabinet ministers ahead of a run-off poll.

Abdullah called for the "immediate dismissal" of Azizullah Ludin and his replacement with another member of the IEC, which critics slammed as biased in favour of President Hamid Karzai during fraud-tainted August elections.

However his calls were swiftly slapped down by both Ludin and Karzai, who said Abdullah had no right to be issuing such demands.

While Abdullah would not spell out the consequences if Ludin and the ministers stayed in place, both a close associate and a leading analyst predicted he might be paving the way to pull out of the November 7 run-off.

"He has left no credibility for the institution," Abdullah told reporters in his strongest attack so far on the IEC's controversial chairman.

"What's the solution? Another commissioner from the same commission should take his position," the former foreign minister said.

The IEC is a nominally independent body but its members were appointed by Karzai. Ludin is a former presidential adviser.

Abdullah has repeatedly called for a shake-up of the IEC after a separate UN-backed commission rejected around a quarter of the votes from the August 20 first round because of fraud.

Ludin's position was contentious even before the first round, with leading US rights group Human Rights Watch warning that the IEC's institutional pro-Karzai bias meant "that the playing field for all candidates is not level".

Abdullah also called for the suspension of cabinet members whom he accused of breaching rules of impartiality by stumping for votes for Karzai, identifying the interior, education and tribal affairs ministers.

So-called ghost polling stations -- where security was so fragile they did not open but nevertheless returned huge numbers of ballots -- should not open this time round, he added.

The demands received short shrift from both Ludin and Karzai, the latter saying in a statement that a change so close to an election "will not be good for the welfare of the country".

"I hope Dr Abdullah will participate in the election. I will congratulate him if he wins, and I expect he will congratulate me if I win," he said.

Ludin said his position was only a matter for the president.

"The IEC and its authorities are assigned and appointed based on the electoral law. The electoral law gives the president the right to appoint the head of IEC," he said.

"I don't think it is the right of every candidate to ask to be able to appoint and dismiss IEC officials."

Abdullah had said his demands were the "minimum" needed for a fair second round.

Ahmad Behzad, a pro-Abdullah lawmaker who campaigned for him in the first round, said the candidate was paving the way to pull out of the contest if he felt it remained tilted in Karzai's favour.

"If these conditions are not met, it means that Karzai once again wants to organise a fraudulent election and I think going to such an election is not wise," Behzad said.

Nasrullah Stanikzai, a political analyst at Kabul University, said Abdullah may be trying to take Karzai's attention away from campaigning, but said it was more likely he was opening the way up for a face-saving pull-out.

"The second and more stronger possibility could be that he knows he will be the loser in the second round and by attaching such conditions, he wants to justify his defeat and is trying to find an escape route," said the analyst.

Although Abdullah did manage to force Karzai into a second round, the incumbent only fell short of an absolute majority by a third of a percentage point and few observers give his challenger much hope of victory in the runoff.

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