Court's fraud ruling throws Afghan parliament into turmoil

A special court ruled that nearly a quarter of the seats in the Afghan parliament were not legitimate because of electoral fraud, setting up a showdown between President Karzai and the parliament.

Gemunu Amarasinghe/AP
Defeated candidates of last year's election, wait for the resumption of proceedings of a special electoral tribunal in a Kabul courtroom, Afghanistan, on Thursday, June 23. The 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.

The seating of nearly a quarter of Afghanistan’s parliament has been invalidated by a special court set up with President Karzai’s encouragement to review allegations of electoral fraud in last fall’s election. The ruling has pitted the Afghan government against itself and threatens to delegitimize the parliament.

The results of last year’s Sept. 18 parliamentary elections have long been marred by accusations of fraud, and protests by the losing candidates became a common occurrence here. In January, Karzai threatened to delay the seating of parliament for a month while the special court continued to investigate claims of fraud. But in the face of pressure from winning parliamentarians and the international community, Karzai backed down and the parliament was seated.

But four months after the parliament opened, the court – which Afghan election authorities and international officials say is illegal – has declared that 62 of 249 members of parliament are illegitimate, sparking a political showdown between Karzai, the parliament, and the courts.

“The whole system is wrong and no one is making any effort for the betterment of Afghanistan,” says Amir Khan Yar, a member of parliament from Nangarhar Province whose seat will not be affected by the decision. “Of course, these sorts of things should be discussed and addressed, but this court that was dealing with fraud was also not working in a transparent way to expose people who committed fraud in the elections.”

The parliament passed a vote of no-confidence in the attorney general after he refused to appear before the legislature to discuss the matter, stating they had no authority to summon him. Meanwhile, a number of legislators have threatened to quit in protest if members of the parliament are removed from power as a result of the decision.

Western officials have expressed concern that, if implemented, the decision will damage the credibility of the parliament and the nation’s system of checks and balances.

The system correcting itself?

Among those who challenged the system and won, there is a sense that the decision stands as a testament to the ability of Afghanistan’s political system to correct itself.

“I think we should celebrate when courts work and produce results,” says Daoud Sultanzoy, a former member of parliament from Ghazni Province who was among the most vocal challengers, and who will now get his seat back if the decision is implemented. “We showed to this country and the people of the world that if you use the laws properly and you conduct yourself within the confines of the rule of law, you can get your rights without using guns.”

The challenge to the parliament comes as the US and NATO forces plan to begin reducing their numbers, as announced by President Obama Wednesday night, something that will place more pressure on the government to provide effective leadership and stability.

“In many ways, this is the last thing that Afghanistan needed. In addition to concerns about security and reconstruction projects, now you have a potential constitutional crisis being thrown into the mix. This doesn’t bode well,” says Sajjan Gohel, international security director at the Asia-Pacific Foundation.

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