| ||Karzai overturns law that reserves seats for women MPs|
By Catherine Philp
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President Karzai has given his election cronies the authority to find new ways of filling women’s seats in forthcoming parliamentary ballots, in a move that critics fear will erode constitutional safeguards designed to guarantee female MPs.
A unilateral decree issued last week gave the Independent Election Commission, which ran the fraudulent presidential polls in August, the right to reallocate seats reserved for women in cases where there are not enough female candidates on the ballot sheets.
Under the existing law Afghan women are guaranteed two seats per province in the lower house of parliament. The system, designed after the collapse of the Taleban to promote women’s rights, guarantees women a certain number of seats on almost every elected body.
However, the decree, issued last week, allows the Commission to find new ways of filling empty posts. “If the vacancies can be filled by male candidates then it’s open to intimidation,” said a women’s rights activist in Kabul. “It’s in the men’s interests to discourage women from standing.” Women in public office already risk death threats.
Mr Karzai faced criticism for undermining women’s rights to garner conservative support before the election when he signed in the Shia Muslim family law that sanctioned marital rape. It is thought that he may be attempting to shore up the same conservative power base in the parliamentary elections.
Western officials said that the President’s intentions could amount to a breach of the constitution.
David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary, said that Britain would oppose any effort by Mr Karzai to limit the number of women in parliament. “Any suggestion that one sex of the Afghan population has less right than another to stand we would deplore,” Mr Miliband said.
Few people have seen the decree and The Times was unable to confirm the wording.
Sir John Stanley, a senior Conservative on the Foreign Affairs Committee, urged Mr Miliband to guarantee women’s rights or other human rights if deals were struck with the Taleban to end the insurgency.
Mr Karzai’s decree led to controversy at the weekend because it removes the international majority on the five-member Election Complaints Commission and allows Mr Karzai to name a new panel.