THE INDEX — February 24, 2010

Afghan President Ahmed Karzai amended a law governing the country’s Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC), much to the chagrin of the Obama administration, which has been turning up the pressure on the Karzai administration to clean up corruption within the Afghan government. Karzai’s amendment will put the ECC, a formerly independent watchdog, under control of the office of the president, which will now have the power to appoint all five of the commission’s members. A Karzai spokesman defended the move, saying: “With foreigners in the commission it was not a national body, nor it was an Afghan body. So to Afghanise the process, the president changed some articles of the law.” Previously, ECC members were appointed by the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, the Supreme Court of Afghanistan, and the Special Representative of the Secretary-General of the United Nations. Before this latest move, many observers considered the ECC to be one of Afghanistan’s most independent bodies. During the country’s presidential election last August, it threw out more than half a million votes cast for Karzai, charging that hey’d been tainted by fraud. Now, however, such an act by the ECC seems somewhat less likely. “This is bad news for democracy,” said a former U.N. political adviser in Afghanistan. “Basically, if President Karzai wishes it, this could prevent free elections ever being held in Afghanistan.” The first test of the new ECC may come this September, when the country goes to the polls for parliamentary elections.

Nigeria’s ailing president, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, returned home from Saudi Arabia yesterday after a three-month medical leave, receiving treatment at a hospital in Jeddah for a heart condition. During Yar’Adua absence, the Nigerian government fell into a constitutional crisis, largely because Yar’Adua failed to hand over the reins of government temporarily to his vice president, Goodluck Jonathan. In January, after a series of street protests erupted throughout the country calling for Yar’Adua’s resignation, Nigeria’s Federal High Court in Abuja intervened, declaring Vice President Jonathan constitutionally empowered to serve as acting president. Despite Yar’Adua’s return to Nigeria yesterday, Jonathan has continued to serve as the country’s premier. Yet, even if Yar’Adua does eventually return to his post as president, his extended absence may spell political discord for the country in the lead-up to its 2011 presidential elections. Already, a coalition of northern politicians is insisting that because of Yar’Adua’s incapacitation, Nigeria’s next president should hail from the north. In a power-sharing agreement between northern and southern Nigeria, the office of the presidency rotates between the two regions. Yar’Adua comes from the Muslim north, while Johnson comes from the Christian south.

Public and private sector unions in Greece held strikes on Wednesday to protest the pending austerity measures that the government is planning to undertake in an effort to close the country’s budget deficit. The measures, which would raise the country’s retirement age, freeze public wages, and increase taxes, are most unpopular with a large swath of Greece’s middle class and working poor, many of whom would bear the brunt of the hardships. In a rally today, the head of one private sector union told a crowd, “Today, Europe’s eyes are turned on us, today we are demonstrating for hope and our future … to cancel the measures.” Yet while the changes remain unpopular with many Greeks, some polls indicate that about half of the population supports the government’s austerity interventions. The measures under consideration by the Greek government will hopefully salvage Greece’s membership in the Eurozone.  The European Monetary Union mandates that all countries using the euro ensure their budget deficits remain below three percent of GDP. Greece’s budget shortfall reached 12.7 percent this year.

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