US congressmen press Afghanistan to delay election

Published December 29, 2009 7:07PM (EST)

U.S. Congressmen said Tuesday they are urging Afghan President Hamid Karzai to delay the next parliamentary ballot until electoral reforms are in place or risk American financial support for his government.

Karzai insists the elections must be held in May despite widespread concerns about their credibility, the U.S. legislators said.

The standoff comes in the wake of August's heavily disputed presidential election. The international community had hoped that election would affirm the government's credibility. Instead, massive fraud tarnished the Karzai government's reputation.

The vote was so soiled that U.N.-backed fraud investigators threw out more than a million ballots -- enough to force Karzai into a second-round vote. The runoff was later canceled when Karzai's top challenger, former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, dropped out.

"In the aftermath of the presidential elections ... the Karzai administration is faced with a challenge to its credibility. We communicated in very clear terms to both the legislative leaders here in Afghanistan and to President Karzai himself that this delegation believes it is imperative that the government of Afghanistan delay the parliamentary elections," Rep. Mike Pence, Republican of Indiana, said at the conclusion of the delegation's two-day visit.

The delegation said they made the case to Karzai in a Monday meeting.

Democratic Rep. Steve Israel of New York warned that "it would be very difficult for me to continue supporting legislation and supplementals on more appropriations and more taxpayer funding in an environment of doubt with respect to those elections."

The congressmen indicated that Karzai appeared focused on defending the legitimacy of the presidential vote.

"Our message to him, though, was that it is time for the Karzai administration to stop looking in the rearview mirror. He has before him an opportunity to demonstrate his commitment to free and fair and open elections," he said.

Another flawed vote would erode support for Karzai's government at a time when he has pledged to battle corruption and improve services. Some nations also are concerned that having to guard polling stations in May would be a distraction for the 30,000 U.S. reinforcements and thousands of other foreign troops recently deployed with orders to stall the Taliban's momentum.

The delegation also included New York Democrats Dan Maffei and Brian Higgins, Republicans Aaron Schock of Illinois, Ed Whitfield of Kentucky and Cliff Sterns of Florida and California Democrat Jerry McNerney.

By Jim Heintz

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