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 further undermines U.S. hopes of building a stable Afghan government, even as tens of thousands of additional troops ordered by President Barack Obama battle a resilient insurgency.
“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.
The elections have been marred by apparent examples 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.
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.
On the elections, a report by the Electoral Complaints Commission, dated Oct. 31 and obtained by McClatchy Newspapers, shows there have been more than 5,200 complaints of irregularities nationwide.
Afghanistan’s attorney general’s office announced last week that it was opening a criminal investigation into a relatively small number of vote-rigging complaints. Final results, originally due Oct. 30, have been delayed until at least late November.
“If the Afghan president (Hamid Karzai) wants people to support his government he should intervene and do 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, the disputed election has 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.”
Of those at the news conference, Barakzai said, “These are 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. Sultanzoi acknowledged widespread apathy in a country that’s been at war for 35 years. Still, he said, “The fact, to me, that this thing has started is very important.”
(Zohori is a McClatchy special correspondent. Jonathan S. Landay contributed from Washington.)
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