September 16, 2009 / 6:06 PM / 10 years ago

Afghanistan needs interim government: think-tank

LONDON (Reuters) - An interim government should be formed to rule Afghanistan until the presidential election is decided, a policy think-tank said Wednesday.

President Hamid Karzai won last month’s election outright in the first round, election officials said Wednesday, but the European Union said more than a third of his votes might be suspect because of fraud.

The results are not final until approved by a separate election fraud watchdog, which has called for a recount of about 10 percent of polling stations.

The International Council on Security and Development (ICOS) said the August 20 poll was marked by “heavy fraud and widespread manipulation.”

The recount could take Karzai below the 50 percent needed to secure victory in the first round, triggering a run-off for which the country was ill-prepared, it said in a report.

The protracted electoral fraud investigation meant a run-off would not be possible before November, ICOS said. By then, Afghanistan’s harsh winter would have set in, making it impossible to hold a vote in many areas.

A second round might have to be delayed until next May, leaving Afghanistan in a constitutional vacuum, ICOS President Norine MacDonald said in a statement.

Afghanistan had few options for dealing with such a deadlock, the think-tank said.

If Karzai imposed a state of emergency to allow him legally to continue governing, it would exacerbate political tensions. After four months of a state of emergency, he would be legally bound to hold a Loya Jirga, or Grand Council, to extend the suspension of the constitution.

However, a Loya Jirga could not be held for a number of legal and procedural reasons, it said.

It called for an interim government to govern until a second round of voting. “An interim government is the only option left to lead Afghanistan out of the political quagmire,” ICOS analyst Alexander Jackson said.

Former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah, Karzai’s main challenger, had agreed to an interim government but only if it did not contain Karzai or himself, ICOS said.

The think-tank called for Karzai to keep his title but become a “ceremonial president.” Presidential powers would be transferred to a “supervised cabinet,” it said.

An independent team of international auditors should oversee government operations to cut down on corruption and diversion of aid money during the interim period, it said.

In the meantime, the international community should begin preparations for a run-off vote next spring, devoting more effort and resources to deploying sufficient observers, it said.

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