By Hamid Shalizi
KABUL (Reuters) - A special Afghan court set up by President Hamid Karzai after fraud-marred parliamentary elections last year began overturning results from dozens of seats on Thursday, raising fears of a constitutional crisis.
The court ruled that dozens of elected lawmakers would have to vacate their seats because of alleged poll fraud. Election sources said as many as 65 or 70 results could be overturned out of the 249-seat parliament.
Karzai's critics have said the court was set up after the disputed 2010 election, in which Karzai's rivals made major gains, to further his political aims rather than serve justice.
"Are we heading for a constitutional crisis?" one Western diplomat said as he watched court officials painstakingly announce revised results for dozens of districts live on national television.
Armed soldiers stood behind the special court judges as they read out the new results, with cheering and applause coming from newly declared winners and their supporters.
Sediqullah Haqiq, the head of the special poll court set up by Karzai, said the tribunal had recounted all valid votes from all of Afghanistan's 34 provinces and described Thursday's ruling as "final."
"Those parliamentarians who won seats in parliament through electoral fraud and violation must be prosecuted," Haqiq told a news conference.
In one district in western Herat, a lawmaker who had been declared the winner had 5,000 votes stripped from his total while another losing candidate was awarded 12,000 more votes after the recount, reversing the previous result.
Afghanistan has been in a state of political paralysis since the September 18 election, with a full cabinet still not finalized after weeks of disputes and squabbling.
Widespread accusations of vote fraud on all sides marred the election, just as it did presidential elections in 2009 which returned President Hamid Karzai to power.
There was no immediate comment from Karzai about the election results being overturned. At a news conference to discuss U.S. troop withdrawals, Karzai was whisked away by advisers and refused to answer questions.
Independent election officials clashed with government officials and the special court in February, with the attorney general's office threatening to arrest election officials if they did not hand over ballot boxes.
Karzai is known to be unhappy with the make-up of the new parliament after the September vote. While not united, the new parliament could yield a more vocal and coherent opposition bloc to challenge Karzai, unlike previous assemblies.
Afghanistan's political system leaves little room for political parties to operate, so changing only a few results could have a significant impact.
(Writing by Paul Tait; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani)