Canada has rebuked Afghan President Hamid Karzai for taking control of a formerly independent body that monitors election fraud - a move that has heightened concerned he is betraying a pledge to tackle the corruption that marred his election last year.
Mr. Karzai signed a decree last week giving him the power to appoint all members of the Electoral Complaints Commission, a group previously dominated by United Nations appointees that uncovered massive fraud on behalf of Mr. Karzai in last year's presidential election.
Yesterday, Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon called the move "disturbing," taking a more pointed line than other allies, who stressed that Afghanistan has to set its own elections laws.
"While we have yet to receive the official translation of President's Karzai's decree amending Afghanistan's electoral law, we are troubled by early reports that the decree could diminish the level of independence of the Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC)," Mr. Cannon said in a statement.
"A strong and independent ECC is vital for the future of a democratic Afghanistan, and any efforts to weaken this body are disturbing."
Ottawa views the move as backtracking on Mr. Karzai's pledge to combat corruption, the bargain he made with Western allies in return for renewed support.
Canadian Grant Kippen led the ECC's efforts to monitor last year's fraud-ridden presidential elections, but Mr. Karzai's advisers argued that the body had overstated the extent of the abuses.
The decree, made public on Monday, suggests that Mr. Karzai wants to tighten control of the electoral process ahead of a parliamentary vote in September. The election was due in May but was postponed because foreign donors would not help pay for it without reforms.
"This is bad news for democracy," said Gerard Russell, a former UN political adviser who resigned over disputes surrounding the August presidential election. "Basically, if President Karzai wishes it, this could prevent free elections ever being held in Afghanistan."
After the fraud-marred August elections, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization pressed Mr. Karzai into promising to root out corruption and institute electoral reforms. The chaotic balloting exposed the corruption underlying Afghan politics, prompting critics to question whether Mr. Karzai could be a reliable partner in the fight against the Taliban.
With a report from The Associated Press