Reuters, October 6, 2005

Female foe of warlords faces them in Afghan assembly

Presence of so many warlords on the ballot was cited by observers to explain the lower turnout in the elections

By Sayed Salahuddin

KABUL, Oct 6 (Reuters) - A young woman activist who is an outspoken critic of warlords has become one of the first candidates elected to Afghanistan's new parliament, according to provisional results released on Thursday.

Malalai Joya shot to fame when she stood up during deliberations to approve a new constitution in 2003 and denounced factional commanders as criminals who should be put on trial.

Now 27, Joya will find herself rubbing shoulders with many of the same warlords in a Wolesi Jirga (House of the People) elected along with provincial councils in landmark Sept. 18 polls.

The U.N.-Afghan election commission released final provisional results from the first two of 34 provinces on Thursday, showing Joya had come second in Farah in the west with 7,813 votes, or seven percent of those cast there.

Women were guaranteed one seat in the remote province, but Joya won under her own steam.

Chief Electoral Officer Peter Erben said the vote count was complete apart from ballots from more than 1,000 of the nearly 27,000 polling stations quarantined due to suspected fraud.

Nearly complete partial results from the rest of the country show that dozens of factional strongmen, dubbed warlords by their critics, appear to have won seats in the assembly.

But indications are that women -- guaranteed at least 68 seats in the 249-seat house -- could hold a balance of power.

Erben said final results would be announced by the end of October once a complaints process had been completed. The commission had previously targeted Oct. 22 for the final results, but Erben said this had been only a projected timeline.

There was an apparent setback for one prominent commander -- Abdul Rabb Rasoul Sayyaf, a key ally of Western-backed President Hamid Karzai -- when ballots from 62 polling stations in his home Kabul district of Paghman were excluded from the count.


They were among ballots from 299 polling stations excluded due to ballot stuffing and other cheating. The majority of votes excluded were in the southeastern province of Paktika.

The election in Paktika was particularly charged after it emerged that two candidates there were linked to the killings of hundreds of communist soldiers in the 1980s whose remains were unearthed in graves in a remote part of the province last week.

Erben said the electoral law allowed for disqualifications, but so far there had been no specific evidence of fraud against a particular candidate. He said that while there had been "serious localised fraud" it did not appear centrally orchestrated. Ms Joya rose to national prominence when she criticised the role of warlords in Afghanistan at a conference to approve the new constitution in 2003.

As a result she faced death threats and had to campaign under tight security. However, her criticisms found favour with her constituency in the western province that borders Iran.

Five seats for parliament were allocated for Farah province, with one reserved for a woman. Ms Joya finished second in the poll with 7,813 votes.

I am very happy, its a proud day for me, Ms Joya said.

I hope by being a member of parliament I will be able to serve my people, especially the women. I will do my best to stop the warlords and criminals from building any laws that will jeopardise the rights of Afghan people, especially the women, she said.

The Times (London), October 7, 2005

"We remain confident that the result of the vote will reflect the will of the voters and that this election will lead to a legislature that will represent Afghanistan's people," he said.

Sayyaf, like some rivals linked by rights groups to atrocities during Afghanistan's long civil war, has been running in fourth place for one of 33 assembly seats in Kabul province.

With 65 percent of votes counted in Kabul, it appears unlikely the exclusion of the ballots will stop him winning a seat.

However, his vote has lagged far behind the third-placed candidate and analysts say this could prevent him securing a prominent position in parliament.

Some poll observers have expressed concern that fraud could mean warlords have disproportionate representation that could allow them to block efforts to account for past atrocities.

And the presence of so many warlords on the ballot was cited by analysts and poll observers to explain the lower turnout in the elections compared with last October's presidential vote.

Self-styled opposition leader Yunus Qanuni predicted before the vote that his Understanding Front would win 50 percent of assembly seats and warned it might block cabinet appointments.

But some analysts doubt it has such backing and say the way parliament votes will largely depend on policies Karzai pursues.

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