AFP, November 26, 2010

Karzai govt accused of vote interference

Election officials threw out a quarter of votes cast in the September 18 parliamentary poll and disqualified 24 early winners, including Karzai allies

By Usman Sharifi

KABUL – Afghan President Hamid Karzai's government came under withering attack Friday, accused of trying to manipulate parliamentary election results by the political opposition and a senior vote official.

karzai with warlords qaseem fahim and kareem khalili
Karzai with infamous warlords Qaseem Fahim (left) and Kareem Khalili (right).

The accusations threaten to ignite nationwide anger over the second Afghan parliamentary election since the 2001 US-led invasion evicted the Taliban and to drag Karzai's administration into further controversy linked to corruption.

They come after attorney general Mohammad Ishaq Alko, a key Karzai aide, opened a criminal probe into final results announced this week, arrested nine people and summoned election officials to answer accusations of fraud.

"The government wanted to nullify the election and since that failed it's using the attorney general's office to pressure the election commissions," Afghanistan's emerging opposition leader Abdullah Abdullah told AFP.

"It's another effort by them to have everything the way they want it... it's basically a propaganda war by the government against the election," he said, branding the top prosecutor's office neither independent nor trustworthy.

Abdullah was the chief rival to Karzai in last year's presidential election that was also marred with massive fraud.

Election officials threw out a quarter of votes cast in the September 18 parliamentary poll and disqualified 24 early winners, including Karzai allies, after processing more than 5,000 allegations of corruption.

Afghan political analysts say the September election appears to have dealt Karzai dwindling support in parliament at a key juncture in efforts by 140,000 US-led NATO troops to defeat a nine-year Taliban insurgency.

Pashtuns, Karzai's traditional allies, are thought to have around 88 seats. His main opponent, Abdullah Abdullah, claims to control more than 90 seats.

Significantly, the president has stopped short of endorsing the results.

The attorney general criticised the Independent Election Commission (IEC) for acting "prematurely" and ordered a criminal probe into the vote, as election losers staged angry demonstrations.

The attorney general's office then summoned four election officials -- two from the IEC and two from the Election Complaints Commission (ECC), including commissioner and spokesman Ahmad Zia Rafat.

Rafat on Friday vowed not to "bow down to any kind of pressure by anyone".

"I believe that these strongmen and some pressure groups within the government are using the attorney general's office to put pressure on us. The attorney general's office is attempting political revenge," Rafat told AFP.

"We stood firm on our promise to people. We disqualified all those candidates who had committed fraud. We never gave in to any pressure by anyone."

Deputy attorney general, Rahmatullah Nazeri, on Friday defended the decision to summon the four election officials.

He told AFP that they have been accused of violating the constitution, misusing authority and taking bribes, while nine other people had already been arrested for possible fraud.

Six of those detained are money dealers and the other three are "rich" construction company owners who claimed to be EU election observers, he said.

Nazeri said that based on alleged confessions of the three businessmen, an arrest warrant had also been issued for an Afghan UN official with dual citizenship.

"If the allegations -- and for most of them we have evidence -- are proved, the legitimacy of the election will be seriously undermined," he said.

The IEC's deputy chief electoral officer, Zekria Barakzai, has said that the election body had not received any official information about the summons.

Candidates who stood for election on September 18 have taken to the streets in towns and cities across the country, denouncing final results that the UN mission and US embassy in Kabul had been swift to welcome.

The president on Thursday urged protestors nationwide to avoid violence and file complaints through legal channels.

One day earlier, as the IEC announced 238 seats in parliament from the election, it left 11 unendorsed from the troubled province of Ghazni, where Afghanistan's largest ethnic group, the Pashtuns, failed to win a single seat.

Karzai, himself a Pashtun, is said to be unhappy with the lack of representation from his ethnic support base, according to an official close to the election.

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