Afghan election watchdog vows to fight fraud

The newly appointed Afghan watchdog responsible for investigating fraud in the 2014 presidential election vowed on Thursday to ensure a fair vote despite accusations over its independence.

The Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC), which earned international praise for disqualifying one million fraudulent votes in 2009, was reformed by President Hamid Karzai in moves that raised fears about its credibility.

Karzai, who cannot stand for a third term in office, was criticised this week for picking loyalists and supporters when he named the ECC's five new Afghan commissioners.

In 2009, the body included three foreign experts selected by the UN.

"I will perform my job with transparency, fairness, impartiality and will take decisions based on those principles so the vote of Afghan people should not be undermined," Abdul Sattar Saadat, the new ECC chairman, told reporters.

"We know that there are many, many challenges in Afghanistan. We will not be influenced. I and my team will do our best and strive to do our job."

Saadat, a lawyer by profession, was joined on the ECC board by four others including district governor Paighambar Qul Dogha and Rida Azemi, the only woman.

"Most of the members of the commission are allies of the president or his associates," Thomas Ruttig, of the Afghan Analysts Network, told AFP.

"So the composition of this commission strengthens the president's monopoly over the Afghan electoral institutions."

Karzai, who has pledged to oversee transparent elections, also recently appointed new members of the Independent Election Commission (IEC), which is responsible for administration of the polls.

The IEC was widely regarded as pro-Karzai in the 2009 vote, when the ECC's fraud investigations forced a run-off that was eventually cancelled when Abdullah Abdullah pulled out.

A corrupt election next April and a disputed result would undermine efforts to establish a functioning state after US-led NATO combat troops withdraw by the end of 2014.

Karzai has said he will not officially support any candidate and it remains unclear who will run for president.

Attention has recently focused on low-profile Foreign Minister Zalmai Rassoul as a strong potential runner who could have Karzai's covert backing.