Afghan Election Commission Chairman Fazel Ahmad Manawi, center, and other… (Musadeq Sadeq / Associated…)
Reporting from Islamabad, Pakistan, and Kabul, — Afghanistan's election commission on Sunday announced the expulsion of nine lawmakers because of allegations of vote fraud, an apparent attempt to bring an end to months of turmoil over last year's fraud-tainted parliamentary elections.
The controversy had severely hampered the Afghan government's operations at a time when the international community was looking to President Hamid Karzai's administration to shoulder more responsibility for governance of the country.
The September vote was marred by a raft of allegations of voter intimidation and fraud. Initially, election officials had set aside a quarter of the cast ballots and disqualified 19 winning candidates.
However, Karzai sought further investigation into claims of irregularities. Karzai is an ethnic Pashtun, and it is widely believed that he felt vote fraud prevented a higher turnout in districts dominated by Pashtun voters. At his behest, the Supreme Court in December ordered the creation of a tribunal to continue the investigation.
In June, the tribunal, condemned by many Afghans and the international community as unconstitutional, ordered the ouster of 62 lawmakers who had been sworn in. Demonstrations broke out, as lawmakers who faced removal by the tribunal vowed they would never give up their seats. Under Afghan law, the country's election commission is supposed to be the final arbiter of election complaints.
The decision Sunday by the Independent Election Commission, announced by its chairman, Fazal Ahmad Manawi, appeared to be a compromise aimed at settling the controversy. The announcement came after Karzai relented this month and agreed that the commission had final authority over election complaints. But he also wanted the commission to review some cases decided by the tribunal.
As a result, two lawmakers from Herat province and one each from the provinces of Paktika, Badakhshan, Baghlan, Samangan, Helmand, Faryab and Zabol will lose their seats, Manawi said. They will be replaced by nine candidates whose victories were nullified by election irregularities.
Although the commission hopes the controversy will subside, many lawmakers previously said they would fight the removal of any member of the 249-seat lower house of parliament who had already been sworn in.
Times staff writer Rodriguez reported from Islamabad and special correspondent Yaqubi from Kabul.