Thursday, June 23, 2011

Court throws out Afghan MPs over alleged fraud

Sacramento Bee

A special Afghan tribunal began throwing out election results Thursday from last year's parliamentary poll, alleging massive fraud and putting in question who will control the legislative body that acts as one of the few checks on President Hamid Karzai.

The Karzai-appointed tribunal, led by Special Court Judge Sidiqullah Haqiq, said it had adjusted results from 33 of Afghanistan's 34 provinces. In early tallies, the tribunal announced 13 new members of the 249-seat parliament Thursday morning.

The packed courtroom in Kabul gasped at times as the five-judge panel detailed some of the fraud it said it had uncovered from the September 2010 election - including one race in Kunduz province in which the tribunal said it counted 20,000 votes for someone marked as receiving zero.

Election officials discarded 1.3 million ballots from the poll - nearly a quarter of the total - for fraud and disqualified 19 winning candidates for cheating.

International advisers consider the re-counts illegal, but the tribunal insists that it has the power to overturn results and even order entire provinces to revote.

The Supreme Court set up the special tribunal in December after it received more than 400 complaints and lawsuits over the poll, Haqiq said.

Afghanistan's parliament was finally inaugurated in late January, but ongoing questions about who was rightfully elected could undermine the lawmakers' authority as they start trying to pass laws and the budget.
Earlier this month, members also launched a protest against Karzai for not naming more than a quarter of his Cabinet or three Supreme Court justices.

Daoud Sultanzoy, a parliamentary candidate from Ghazni province who lost his election, attended Thursday's tribunal hearing and said the judges' actions were "very, very encouraging for governance in this country." He was still waiting to hear if his election would be overturned.

"Is that democracy, to leave the crooks in parliament?" he asked.

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