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Commission to change outcome of 9 Afghan elections

Final arbiters reverse earlier decision on vote

By Rod Nordland
New York Times / August 22, 2011

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KABUL - Afghanistan’s beleaguered election commission gave in to political pressure yesterday and declared that it would change the results of the latest parliamentary elections.

The Independent Election Commission announced at a news conference yesterday that nine members of Parliament would be removed, after having ruled that the election results were final and saying that even the commission could not change the outcome. Nine candidates, previously disqualified over electoral irregularities, would have their seats restored.

“We did not willingly get involved in this case, but it was our obligation to end this crisis,’’ the commission chairman, Fazil Ahmad Manawi, said.

The controversy over the results of September’s parliamentary elections have paralyzed the Afghan government for 11 months, provoking street demonstrations by losers and counter-demonstrations by winners, and preventing President Hamid Karzai from appointing a Cabinet or nominating new Supreme Court justices.

Manawi in effect acknowledged that the commission’s decision was as much a political compromise as a legal solution, although he insisted the agency acted independently. “We did not accept any pressure and our decision was based on our legal authority,’’ he said, “and there was no one else involved in our decision, neither from the palace nor any other entity or individual.’’

Previously, Afghanistan’s election agencies had invalidated nearly a fourth of all votes recorded in the elections, which meant that many apparent winners were stripped of their seats.

Responding to public pressure, especially from his Pashtun ethnic group that was particularly hurt by the invalidations, Karzai had the Supreme Court convene a special court to review the election results. That was widely condemned by the international community and by many Afghans, who said the country’s constitution made the election commission the final word on the results.

The special court declared that 62 of the losing candidates should have their victories restored, which in turn led to protests in Parliament. Many parliamentarians armed themselves and squadrons of bodyguards and vowed to resist efforts to change the assembly’s makeup.

In addition, the attorney general brought a series of criminal charges against the election commission and other election officials, including Manawi, as well as the commission’s chief electoral officer, Abdullah Ahmadzai.

The president finally broke the impasse by declaring earlier this month that the commission was indeed the final arbiter, and he dissolved the special court. At the same time, he suggested that the election commission should review some of the cases itself, which apparently paved the way to yesterday’s compromise.

This still may not go far enough to resolve the crisis, however, with members of Parliament insisting they would not let even nine of their members be replaced and losing candidates who were not restored to office promising to continue to agitate against parliament’s makeup.

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