Frustrated donors end funding for Afghan parliamentary elections

KABUL (Reuters) - Afghanistan’s failure to set a date for postponed parliamentary elections or act on promised reforms has prompted foreign aid donors to cut short a multi-million-dollar project to fund electoral bodies, diplomats have told Reuters.

The country is headed for another political crisis after last year’s fraught presidential vote because the parliament’s five-year mandate expires on June 22 and elections scheduled for April have been delayed.

The decision to end the United Nations Development Programme-run project before it runs out in December shows a new readiness by donors to cut money to projects that are falling short. Afghanistan has received billions of dollars in assistance since the Taliban were ousted by a U.S.-led invasion in 2001.

“Donors and UNDP decided the best course of action would be to wind down ELECT II,” a Western diplomat told Reuters, adding that the lack of progress on reforms prompted the decision.

“In the hiatus, the international community can’t really justify that level of assistance.”

Around $338 million had been pledged to the three-year U.N. project that was to fund presidential and parliamentary elections. The UNDP would not say how much remains unspent, but said it “will inform the public when the new ELECT II work plan is agreed by the project’s partners”.

Both candidates claimed victory after last year’s presidential vote was marred by accusations of fraud and it took months for them to agree to a U.S.-brokered deal to form a unity government under Ashraf Ghani.

Reforms were a condition for holding future elections, but no progress has been made because rivals in government disagree over who should lead the commission.

Donors say that aid is being scrutinized more closely than ever and other projects that are failing to meet expectations face similar cuts.

One example is a delayed scheme to roll out electronic identity cards.

“The government has not told us when it will be rolled out, so donors came to the conclusion to reduce to essential staff and operational costs,” said ID card project director Humayun Mohtar.

Meanwhile, Afghanistan is grappling with options ahead of the expiration of the parliament’s legal term.

Afghan and foreign officials expect the mandate to be extended, possibly by the Supreme Court. Otherwise, it could be dissolved and the country run by presidential decree until new elections are held, but such a solution is unlikely to draw support.

Ghani’s spokesman said an announcement could come next week.

Additional reporting by Hamid Shalizi; Editing by Jeremy Laurence