Months after tainted elections, Afghan panel seeks ouster of nine

McClatchy NewspapersAugust 21, 2011 

KABUL, Afghanistan — After months of controversy over the last year's tainted elections, an independent Afghan commission announced Sunday that nine members of Parliament will lose their seats and will be replaced by new members.

In December, President Hamid Karzai created a separate tribunal to sort out the allegations of fraud that dogged elections to the lower house of parliament since they were held in September. Karzai had sought to invalidate the fraudulent election of 62 MPs.

But critics alleged that many, if not most, of those 62 members were actually opponents of Karzai and that his action was an illicit attempt to remake the elections. In recent weeks, the United Nations quietly has intervened, hoping to influence the outcome of the commission's deliberations, McClatchy reported earlier this month. The UN had sought to overturn 17 contests.

In making the announcement Sunday, Fazel Ahamd Manawi, the head of Independent Elections Commission (IEC), noted the pressure on the commission, but said it played no role in its decision.

"Today we have taken a very difficult and tough decision in order to end the election dispute though there was pressure from certain circles within the government," Manawi told reporters in press conference.

The new MPs include eight men and one woman from different provinces across Afghanistan, including the volatile southern province of Helmand.

Afghanistan's parliamentarian elections were held last September but there were reports of fraud and rigging on the polling day, which triggered street demonstrations by failed candidates and forced president Karzai to set up the tribunal to investigate.

Some believe that the IEC's decision is the result of a compromise made among representatives of the president, IEC and international community.

Ahmad Zia Rafat, who served as spokesman for the Electoral Complaint Commission (ECC), believes that Sunday's decision was a violation of Afghan election law.

"Once the results are announced, no organization has the authority to change it," said Rafat, who is also a law lecturer at Kabul university. "It is not believed that this decision of the election commission will end the crisis, indeed we are entering another phase of crisis."

It was only about two weeks ago that Karzai in a decree gave full authority to the IEC to announce the final decision and put end to the electoral dispute.

"I am happy about the announcement, but our national process has been damaged. I was winner, but the Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) delisted me, without any evidence," said Ashoqullah Wafa, a newly announced winner MP from the northern province of Baghlan.

In contrast, another MP, who lost his seat, called the IEC's announcement illegal.

"This is absolutely illegal decision, no one has the authority to bring changes in the result once it is announced, I don't think this announcement will be enforced," said Shaker Kargar, who was elected from the northwestern province of Faryab.

"It is based on a political deal between IEC chairman and the palace," said Kargar, who is on his second term. Gul Mohammad Pahlawan will replace Kargar if the decision of IEC is enforced.

"If he (Gul Mohammad Pahlawan) had votes he would have been announced as winner in the beginning, the ECC would not have removed him," said Kargar.

Zahir Qadir, who leads an opposition coalition in the parliament, said the decision is illegal and said that the election commission was swayed by powerful interests in Afghanistan. .

"This is decision is against the constitution, we will continue our struggle, and will not allow anyone to enter the parliament," said Qadir, who is represented the eastern province of Nangarhar.

Qadir has been protesting for two weeks in a tent set up next to the parliament building. He warned of further street protests if there is any change in the MPs list.

The United States has said it would support the decision of the IEC. In all, there were 249 races for the parliament's lower house last year.

Shukoor is McClatchy's special correspondent.

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