Afghan electoral commission ruling may raise more problems than it solves

Today’s decision by the Independent Electoral Commission to remove nine parliamentarians accused of fraud in last year's vote will do little to restore the government's image.

Musadeq Sadeq/AP
Afghan Election Commission Chairman Fazel Ahmad Manawi reads off names of the new parliamentarians during a press conference in Kabul, Afghanistan on Sunday.

Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission (IEC) has made a decision that aims to bring to a close nearly a year of drama and conflict following the country’s parliamentary election last fall.

On Sunday, the IEC said it would remove nine of the 62 sitting members of parliament a special court ruled should lose their seats due to electoral fraud.

The decision is meant to be a final step in closing a dispute between President Hamid Karzai and the parliament that paralyzed the legislature and caused a constitutional crisis. Many of those losing their seats, however, say they will not accept the decision which may cause the electoral turmoil to drag on even longer.

Among many Afghans, today’s attempted resolution for this standoff will do little to restore the government’s image, marred by its inability to efficiently find a solution and hold elections without widespread fraud and corruption.

“I blame the president for this whole mess. The president made a big mistake by bringing corrupt people to the election commission and the election complaints commission,” says Mohammad Musa Farewar, a professor of political science at Kabul University. “Today’s announcement is probably a deal or a compromise that was made behind closed doors. The complaints were not addressed as they should have been and now this problem is getting more complicated.”

Last year's vote

Afghanistan went to the polls to elect members of parliament on Sept. 18 last year. Before the polls had even closed, there were allegations of widespread fraud. Mr. Karzai tried to delay the seating of the parliament while a special court investigated electoral corruption and eventually agreed to a compromise that saw the legislators seated in the end of January.

A number of losing candidates continued to protest even after the parliament began session. The situation came to a head when a special court appointed by Karzai to investigate voting irregularities – and that the IEC branded as illegal – invalidated the election of 62 members of parliament who’d been in office for five months.

The decision was met by massive parliamentary protest and sparked a government crisis as Karzai, the parliament, and the courts turned against each other. Some involved accused Karzai of trying to expel his opponents from the parliament and replace them with his supporters. However, after Karzai recently referred the final decision to the IEC, the dispute appeared to be headed toward its end.

Much more to resolve

As news of the IEC’s ruling spread today, however, it appears clear that the dispute is likely to drag on even longer.

“In many different sessions, a majority of the members of the lower house voted to condemn these investigative procedures and the activities of the courts. Today’s announcement is an illegal act and I’m not going to accept it,” says Mohammad Tahir Zaheer, who has been a serving as a member of parliament from Samangan province since January and who will lose his seat as a result of the IEC’s decision.

“I’m not going to do anything to defend my status, because the ruling is illegal. I’m just going to keep going to the parliament. The elections are finished and the parliament is formed,” says Mr. Zaheer.

For Ahmad Khan Samangani – who would replace Zaheer as a result of the IEC decision – the announcement comes as welcome news. On election day, he says, preliminary results showed that approximately 24,000 people had cast their ballot for him, but when officials released the final results they said he didn’t have a single vote.

“If I don’t go to parliament, I will violate the rights of 24,000 people who gave me their votes," he says. "It’s not my seat. It’s the seat of 24,000 people so I must go.”

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