Afghan poll body backs president's court
KABUL (Reuters) - Afghanistan's election body said on Sunday it will replace nine parliamentarians in line with a ruling by a court appointed by President Hamid Karzai, potentially inflaming tension with lawmakers who have warned against any changes to the results of last year's contentious poll.
Independent Election Commission (IEC) head Fazl Ahmad Manawi said the body would send nine new parliamentarians from eight provinces to the legislature -- unseating nine MPs who had already been declared winners by the IEC itself last year.
The parliament and Karzai have been locked in a paralysing standoff over a fraud-mired vote in September, and protests erupted after he appointed a court that changed results in nearly a quarter of the legislature's seats.
The deepening political crisis comes at a worrying time for Afghanistan, with violence at record levels as the NATO-led coalition last month began a gradual handing over of security responsibilities to Afghan forces.
That process will end when the last foreign combat troops leave Afghanistan by the end of 2014.
"After the presidential decree referring authority to the IEC, we focussed on 62 complaining candidates. We investigated the situation carefully and from all aspects," Manawi told a media conference.
The 249-seat parliament is barely functioning and a complete cabinet has yet to be formed almost a year after the vote.
On Tuesday, 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.
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.
Ahmad Behzad, an opposition lawmaker from Herat province whose seat was not affected, said the IEC's announcement on Sunday was illegal and invalid.
"If the government or IEC turn to force, our position is obvious and we know how to deal with the government," he said, referring to the threat of demonstrations.
Abdul Wali Neyazi, a lawmaker from the northeastern Badakhshan province who was unseated by Sunday's IEC decision, said the IEC and government targeted lawmakers in each province who had no connections with Karzai or his vice presidents.
"They checked who doesn't have financial and political support," he told Reuters. "They found (those) which get no support from the government and listed us as people who got the least number of votes and changed us."
In June, the special tribunal threw out results from about a quarter of the seats in parliament after recounting ballots, saying it had found alleged voting irregularities significant enough to change the winners in 62 seats.
The IEC, which ran the foreign-funded poll, was initially strongly opposed to the court's ruling but softened its stance in July and said it would compare the findings against its own.
Most lawmakers, including many who do not face being unseated, reject the court and its ruling as unconstitutional, an observation shared by many Afghan officials and foreign observers.
Karzai, re-elected after another fraud-tainted presidential poll in 2009, has often been accused of treating parliament as a rubber stamp.
(Writing by Bryson Hull, editing by Miral Fahmy)
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