Afghan parliament losers protest against poll watchdog's move

Reuters News
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Posted: Aug 23, 2011 8:34 AM
Afghan parliament losers protest against poll watchdog's move

By Mirwais Harooni

KABUL (Reuters) - Hundreds of supporters of losing Afghan parliamentary election candidates marched on the United Nations office in Kabul Tuesday, warning of nationwide demonstrations after a poll watchdog rejected an order to put them into the legislature.

Afghanistan's president and parliament have been locked in a political crisis over results of a fraud-marred parliamentary election last September, which has kept the 249-member assembly hardly functioning and hindered formation of a full cabinet.

Sunday, Afghanistan's Independent Election Commission (IEC) unseated nine of 62 parliamentarians a special poll tribunal appointed by President Hamid Karzai had ordered removed on grounds of alleged election irregularities.

The IEC, which ran the foreign-funded election last year, had initially objected to the poll court's June ruling as unconstitutional, but later softened its stance and assented to the replacement of nine legislators.

Those protesting Tuesday in front of the U.N. mission, which distributed the foreign election funding, were supporters of the remaining 53 the IEC refused to send to parliament in spite of the special poll court's decision.

"Nobody in Afghanistan cares about the law," Abdul Jabar Shulgarai, who was a losing candidate from the central Ghazni province. "It is the foreign embassies which make the decision and IEC announces it."

Supporters waved placards and chanted slogans calling the IEC head Fazl Ahmad Manawi a slave of foreign nations and a traitor. The losing candidates warned of further demonstrations in the provinces and Kabul.

"Our case went to the court, but there is no one to accept the court's decision," Daoud Seltanzoi, another losing candidate, complained.

RULING FINAL

IEC spokesman Noor Ahmad Noor said Sunday's decision was final and no other changes would be made, and those now in parliament would serve the remaining four years of their terms.

"IEC has closed the election file," Noor told Reuters. "If they demonstrate for the entire four more years, there will be no change in our decision."

A week ago, around 3,000 people including elected lawmakers gathered outside parliament and demanded that Karzai and the IEC not change the poll results or parliament's make-up, threatening more protests if either happened.

Most lawmakers, including many who did not face being unseated, rejected the Karzai-appointed court's ruling as unconstitutional and illegal, an observation shared by many Afghan officials and international observers.

Critics say the court was set up to further Karzai's political agenda and silence an opposition that made major gains in the 2010 parliamentary vote.

Karzai, re-elected after a fraud-tainted poll in 2009, has often been accused of treating parliament as a rubber stamp.

The deepening political crisis comes at a worrying time for Afghanistan, with violence at record levels as the NATO-led coalition last month began gradually handing over security responsibility to Afghans.

That process will end when the last foreign combat troops leave Afghanistan by the end of 2014.

(Writing by Bryson Hull; Editing by Yoko Nishikawa)