KABUL — Afghanistan’s president has taken control of a formerly independent body that monitors election fraud, raising concern that he’s reneging on promises to clean up corruption and cronyism, a pillar of the Obama administration’s plan to erode support for the Taliban.

President Hamid Karzai signed a decree last week giving him the power to appoint all members of the Electoral Complaints Commission, a group previously dominated by U.N. appointees that uncovered massive fraud on behalf of Karzai in last year’s presidential election.

The decree, which was made public Monday, suggests that Karzai wants to tighten control of the electoral process ahead of parliamentary balloting next September. The election was scheduled for May, but was postponed because foreign donors would not help pay for it without reforms.

”This is bad news for democracy,” said Gerard Russell, a former U.N. political adviser who resigned over disputes surrounding the August presidential election. ”Basically, if President Karzai wishes it, this could prevent free elections ever being held in Afghanistan.”

Western diplomats based in Kabul expressed similar concerns, but would not allow their names to be published because they were not authorized to speak about the issue to the media.

After the fraud-marred August elections, the U.S. and other international partners pressed Karzai into promising to root out corruption and institute electoral reforms. Government corruption is often cited as a major reason many Afghans have turned to the Taliban.

Karzai has taken some steps, including requiring that all senior government officials register their assets. But diplomats fear the election decree represents a step backward.

The decree gives the president the authority to appoint all five members of the complaints commission in consultation with parliamentary leaders and the head of the Supreme Court, according to a copy obtained by The Associated Press.

Previously, the United Nations appointed the chairman and two other commissioners. The Afghan human rights commission and the Supreme Court named one commissioner each.

A Karzai spokesman said the changes were made because foreigners had too much control over the last election.

”The international members had large salaries and didn’t care about Afghanistan’s national interest,” said Syamak Herawi. ”Now there won’t be any interference. The foreigners can be observers.”


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