Q+A - Afghanistan's parliamentary poll: What went wrong?

KABUL Sun Jan 23, 2011 4:43pm GMT

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KABUL (Reuters) - Afghan President Hamid Karzai has abandoned plans to delay the opening of parliament by a month, bowing to domestic and international pressure. He has now set the inauguration for January 26.

Here are some questions and answers on what went wrong with Afghanistan's parliamentary election:

HOW DID THE ELECTION GO?

The election for the 249-seat lower house got off to a bad start. Originally set for May, it was delayed until September after international donors funding it demanded reforms to avoid a repetition of the fraud-marred presidential poll in 2009.

At least 17 people were killed on election day September 18 and poor security in some areas meant more than a fifth of polling stations stayed closed. Turnout was also low.

The Independent Election Commission (IEC) which ran the poll announced preliminary results on October 20, almost two weeks late, after delays to allow more time for fraud checks. It said it had disqualified nearly a quarter of all votes -- 1.3 million -- for various reasons, including fraud and intimidation.

Final results for all 34 provinces were eventually announced on December 1 after several more delays.

HOW DID FRAUD COMPLAINTS DELAY THE INAUGURATION?

The U.N.-backed Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) said it received more than 6,000 formal complaints, a third of which could have affected the final outcome. They included intimidation, violence and polling irregularities. As a result, the ECC disqualified 21 successful candidates, almost one in 10.

Allegations of fraud were also made against the IEC itself, including senior members in the commission. The election chief in the eastern province of Khost was arrested for fraud.

Street protests by disgruntled candidates calling for the election to be annulled followed in Kabul and other parts of the country. The IEC, however, ruled out a re-run or a recount.

In December, the attorney-general's office asked the Supreme Court to cancel the results of the election, resulting in a swift rebuke from the IEC and the U.N.-backed watchdog.

Political analysts say Karzai, who appointed the attorney-general and was not happy with the results, was behind the move.

About 100 new MPs denounced the attorney-general's calls as unconstitutional and demanded Karzai open parliament by December 19. Karzai then promised an inauguration in late January.

On December 27, however, he issued a decree forming a special court to deal with complaints by disgruntled candidates. Then on Wednesday, he ordered a one-month delay in the inauguration after the tribunal asked for more time to look into fraud.

The decision outraged lawmakers who said they would open the assembly with or without Karzai on the scheduled date of January 23, opening the way for a showdown with the president.

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?

On Saturday, Karzai appeared to bow to pressure and agreed to open the assembly on January 26. MPs demanded he scrap the special court but, in the face of strong resistance, have agreed to set that aside to secure an opening on Wednesday.

Senior lawmaker Younus Qanuni argued MPs would be protected from the court by parliamentary immunity and that they would raise the issue of the court's legality once in parliament.

However, Karzai wants MPs to sign a written guarantee before the inauguration that they would abide by the law and step aside if the justice system found they stole votes. MPs were unimpressed, suggesting inauguration plans could be in jeopardy.

If the opening goes ahead as planned it will be more than four months since polling day and about six months since parliament last sat before the summer recess.

HOW WILL ALL THIS AFFECT KARZAI?

Karzai's reputation took a nosedive at home and abroad after more than a third of his votes were rejected as fake in the 2009 presidential election and the events in the past few months have done little to improve his credibility.

The United Nations said there had been "considerable fraud" in the election but accepted the final result. It issued a strong statement on Friday, with the United States and other Western countries, calling for an inauguration as soon as possible.

While Karzai appears to be hanging on to his special election court, his decision not to delay the inauguration is a political victory for parliament and may give MPs more influence when challenging the president in the future.

(Editing by Emma Graham-Harrison)

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