After 7 weeks and no results, excluded Afghan candidates protest

McClatchy NewspapersNovember 6, 2010 

KABUL, Afghanistan — A group of parliamentary candidates from across Afghanistan, saying they'd been wrongfully disqualified, on Saturday demanded a re-run of September's elections and promised new rallies to protest electoral fraud.

The move by a dozen candidates drawn from provinces in northern and central Afghanistan appears unlikely to change the outcome of the deeply flawed Sept. 18 election, whose final results have yet to be announced.

But it serves as a reminder of the difficulty of achieving the U.S. goal of building a stable Afghan government, even as tens of thousands of additional U.S. troops battle a resilient Taliban insurgency.

The elections were marred by charges of vote-rigging, ballot-stuffing, intimidation and other problems. Afghanistan's electoral body threw out 1.3 million of a reported 5.6 million ballots cast, without a clear explanation, and final results, originally due Oct. 30, have been delayed until at least late November.

A report by the Electoral Compliants Commission, dated Oct. 31 and obtained by McClatchy, shows there have been more than 5,200 complaints of irregularities nationwide

"Your money, your effort, your blood, your sweat and your tears are spent in this country," said Dawood Sultanzoi, a parliamentarian from Ghazni,who stands to lose his seat — unfairly, he said. Results from Ghazni and other areas were strongly titled against ethnic Pashtuns like Sultanzoi.

"This will drive hundreds of thousands of people to the mountains to join the (Taliban) opposition," and further hurt the U.S. counter-insurgency effort, he said.

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"If the Afghan president (Hamid Karzai) wants people to support his government he should intervene and not let people's rights to be disregarded," Mohammad Aatif, a candidate from Kabul, told a news conference.

"If the Afghan president and judiciary fail to listen to people's demands our country will face a disaster," he said.

Thus far, however, the disputed elections have resulted in only small-scale protests in Kabul and a few other cities. Another rally is set for Sunday morning in the Afghan capital.

Illustrating the paucity of any organized political opposition, the candidates and would-be candidates at the news conference couldn't seem to agree whether new elections should be held or not.

Zakaria Barakzai, a member of the Independent Election Commission, which oversaw the polls, said, "Neither the election law nor the Afghan constitution allow us to hold another election."

Barakazi said the candidates at the news conference were "the people who failed to secure enough votes to get elected and it is normal when the candidate loses the election they complain and make all sorts of baseless accusations."

Still, some Western analysts say it is possible that anger over the elections could snowball, furthering political uncertainty at a critical time for Afghanistan.

In a separate development, NATO officials said they and the Afghan government were investigating whether a soldier from the U.S.-trained Afghan army attacked international forces, killing two American soldiers.

The reported incident took place late Thursday in southern Helmand province, the site of fierce fighting between U.S.-led troops and insurgents, a spokesman for the International Security Assistance Force said.

(Zohori is a McClatchy special correspondent. Jonathan S. Landay contributed from Washington.)

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McClatchy Newspapers 2010

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