Electoral fraud tribunal throws out a quarter of Afghan MPs

Panel appointed by President Karzai threw out results for 62 races in the 249-seat legislative body and will reconvene on Saturday, meaning even more results could be overturned.

Defeated female candidates of Afghanistan's September 2010 election, greet each other during a break of proceedings of a special electoral tribunal in a Kabul courtroom, Afghanistan, Thursday, June 23, 2011. 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. (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe) *** Local Caption ***  Afghanistan Parliament.JPEG-03692.jpg
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KABUL // A special tribunal overturned nearly 25 per cent of last year's Afghan parliamentary election results yesterday, alleging massive fraud and putting into question who will control the parliament, one of the few checks on President Hamid Karzai.

MPs on the parliament floor shouted about the "illegal" special tribunal and threatened to hold demonstrations against what they saw as a power grab by Mr Karzai.

Yesterday the panel appointed by Mr Karzai threw out results for 62 races in the 249-seat legislative body. The special court judge, Sidiqullah Haqiq, said the panel will reconvene on Saturday, meaning even more results could be overturned.

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

"There was protest and even some killings in the provinces," Judge Haqiq said.

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

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

During yesterday's hearings, judges simply declared new winners for the races after offering their new tabulations. Judge Haqiq said their re-counting and investigations were monitored by different groups to ensure fairness.

"There were rumours that a list came from the palace" on who should win, the chief judge said. "I promise you no list came to me."

While leaving the ethnic and gender makeup of the parliament largely unchanged, the new members will probably be welcome to Mr Karzai. The president developed an adversarial relationship with the parliament in recent months.

Earlier this month, members launched a protest against Mr Karzai for not naming more than a quarter of his cabinet or three Supreme Court justices.

Afghanistan's parliament, inaugurated in late January, faces ongoing questions about who was rightfully elected, undermining the MPs' authority as they try to pass laws and the budget.

It remains unclear what the next step is for the election winners declared by the special tribunal or whether MPs already receiving government perks and bodyguards would cede their positions. The tribunal's announcements will probably face either a legal or political challenge.

Those who saw their claimed election win vindicated by the tribunal defended the judges' decisions.

"I'm very happy, not because of my win," said Fazil Karim Aymaq, a candidate from Kunduz province. "I'm happy that we are the new children of democracy. We are starting a new democracy in Afghanistan."