Reporting from Kabul, Afghanistan, and New Delhi — More than 4,000 complaints have been received about Afghanistan's recent parliamentary elections, and a majority of them have the potential to change the results, the country's election watchdog said Sunday.
The Sept. 18 elections were held despite Taliban threats. But Western expectations for free and fair elections have remained relatively low since last year's presidential vote, which saw Hamid Karzai returned to power amid widespread fraud.
In that contest, the United Nations-backed Electoral Complaints Commission threw out more than a third of Karzai's votes, marring his reputation at home and abroad.
Ahmad Zia Rafat, a member of the commission, said Sunday that 4,169 complaints had been filed, of which 55% are considered serious enough that they can shape the outcome if they're upheld under investigation. Of 2,500 candidates, 175 have been accused of fraud.
"Out of those candidates accused of fraud, 25 are current members of parliament," Rafat said. "If the accusations of fraud against the candidates are proved, their votes will be nullified and they will be presented to the courts."
The largest category of complaints, accounting for more than 40% of the total, related to polling irregularities, the commission said. An additional 17% involved violence or intimidation. There were smaller numbers of complaints about access to polling stations and tabulation irregularities.
Preliminary results were to have been released early this month. But as complaints mounted, a separate government-appointed body, the Independent Election Commission, delayed the announcement to allow more time to verify results and recounting.
Of 6,800 polling centers that were scheduled to operate on election day, more than 1,500 were shut because of security concerns. At least 17 people were killed that day, though no major attack was reported.
Violence in Afghanistan this year is at its highest level since the start of the war nine years ago. As President Obama prepares for mid-term elections, critics are increasingly questioning the war's cost in money and lives. The administration has said it will begin pulling out troops next summer, but it is not clear how quickly it will reduce the size of the force.
Two NATO troops were killed Sunday by roadside bombs in southern Afghanistan, bringing to 26 the number killed this month. Officials of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization did not immediately release their nationalities.
In eastern Paktia province, five members of an Afghan family died in a roadside bombing, NATO officials said.
NATO also said it had tracked a Taliban commander identified as Mullah Jamaluddin as he traveled in western Badghis province Saturday, killing him and two militants in a gun battle.
On the political front, Karzai announced Sunday that a peace council had appointed Burhanuddin Rabbani as its chairman. Rabbani, a mujahedin leader who fought the Soviets in the 1980s, served as Afghanistan's president from 1992 to '96, when he was ousted by the Taliban.
As council head, his duties will include talking to insurgent groups in an effort to reduce violence and bolster stability.
Special correspondent Baktash reported from Kabul and Times staff writer Magnier from New Delhi.