KABUL – President Hamid Karzai took key steps toward reforming the country’s electoral system Saturday, naming a respected former judge to head Afghanistan’s election-organizing body and backing down from a bid to keep international representatives off a separate team that monitors fraud.

The moves come after months of demands by the United States and its allies to clean up the electoral process following massive fraud in last year’s presidential balloting. Without meeting those demands, the Afghan government risked losing both funds for an upcoming parliamentary vote and broader international support.

Disagreements about how to handle last year’s fraud-marred presidential vote nearly derailed the U.S.-Afghan partnership, even as President Obama was ordering thousands more U.S. troops to try to turn back the Taliban. Many international diplomats and officials have been worried that parliamentary elections scheduled for September could prove similarly disastrous.

Karzai also named three Afghans and two U.N. representatives to the separate, U.N.-backed watchdog group that uncovered the fraud in the Aug. 20 presidential election. The U.N. said it was now recommending that donor nations release money set aside to fund the parliamentary vote.

The U.S. Embassy welcomed the changes, saying it hopes they will help deliver a “transparent, fair and credible parliamentary election to the Afghan people.”

Last February, Karzai issued a presidential decree excluding foreigners from the watchdogs. But the lower house of parliament threw out the decree. Presidential spokesman Waheed Omar said Karzai had agreed to include two U.N. representatives to address the concerns of the international community.

Omar said the watchdogs will not be able to make decisions without the agreement of at least one of the international representatives — a South African and an Iraqi nominated by the United Nations.

The chief of the U.N. mission, Staffan de Mistura, said that with the changes, he believed the Sept. 18 parliamentary elections would be “more credible, more transparent” than the presidential election last year.

However, it’s unclear if Karzai’s most recent appointments will result in a more transparent vote, or simply be the latest attempt to paper over an entrenched system of cronyism and vote-trading by giving the appearance of a democratic election.


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