Afghanistan to hold parliamentary elections in May

The chief officer of the country's election commission says a parliamentary vote will be held in May despite international concern the electoral system needs serious reform.

KABUL // The chief officer of Afghanistan's elections commission said today that a parliamentary vote will be held in May despite widespread international concern that the country's electoral system needs serious reform. Ali Najafi told a news conference the national vote will be held May 22. However, he said Afghanistan needs about US$50 million (Dh183m) from the international community to meet the election's estimated budget of $120m.

It was not clear whether the vote would or could be held if donor countries don't provide the money. In the wake of last August's heavily disputed presidential election, many critics have pushed President Hamid Karzai and his government to delay the parliamentary vote. Mr Karzai has insisted the constitution, which specifies the elections be held by May, must be observed. Mr Najafi said security in the insurgency-ridden country would be a concern for the elections and said the vote would not be held in areas where it could not be ensured.

He suggested voters from those areas could travel elsewhere to cast votes. In the presidential election, that arrangement was made for voters in 10 districts. A US Congressional delegation that met with Mr Karzai in Kabul last week said it had warned the president that holding the election without first enacting substantive electoral reform could undermine support for US aid to the country. "We did not receive any official reaction from the international community that says that they are not supporting the election," Mr Najafi said. "But in this regard, a paper was made by the United Nations which made certain recommendations and requested certain reforms."

He said reforming the electoral law was one of the issues raised by the international community, however, "it is not in our control, it is up to the parliament to approve the electoral law". Today Mr Karzai visited the southern province of Helmand to express condolences to relatives of civilians allegedly killed in an air strike. The Helmand provincial governor's spokesman Dawud Ahmadi, who confirmed the president's visit to the town of Lashkar Gah, said an attack by international forces on Wednesday killed seven civilians and two Taliban insurgents.

Civilian casualties is a sensitive issue facing foreign forces in Afghanistan. Nato has said it is investigating the allegation. The incident in Helmand was the second claim of civilian deaths in allied attacks in a week. The Afghan government said last week 10 people were killed, including eight schoolchildren, in a village in eastern Kunar province in a night-time raid by international forces. * AP