Afghan election officials to expel 9 legislators

Associated Press
Afghan Election Commission Chairman Fazel Ahmad Manawi reads off names of the new parliamentarians during a press conference in Kabul, Afghanistan on Sunday, Aug. 21, 2011. The election officials said Sunday that nine parliamentarians should be removed from their posts because of election fraud allegations, an attempt to put an end to a nearly year-long state of limbo in the legislature. (AP Photo/Musadeq Sadeq)
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KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Afghan election officials said Sunday that nine parliamentarians should be removed from their posts because of election fraud allegations — an attempt to put an end to a nearly yearlong state of limbo in the legislature.

The allegations surfaced immediately following the messy September 2010 vote and peaked in June when a special court appointed by President Hamid Karzai called for the removal of 62 sitting lawmakers.

Lawmakers and many of Afghanistan's international allies said the special court violated Afghan law, which says that an official fraud-monitoring body is the final arbiter of such complaints. That group had already discarded 1.3 million ballots — nearly a quarter of the total — for fraud, and disqualified 19 winning candidates for cheating.

The dispute threatened to escalate into a constitutional crisis, with the courts, the president and the legislature all claiming the right to make the final ruling about the election. It also has proved a major encumbrance at a time when the international community is pushing to strengthen the Afghan government so that Kabul can take more responsibility for security and governance.

Sunday's decision to remove nine lawmakers appeared to be a concession by an election commission that had previously held that no parliamentarians should lose their seats.

Election commission chairman Fazel Ahmad Manawi said the nine names were not a result of a political compromise, but were selected after a thorough review of allegations brought by the court. In each instance, the candidate who originally took office did not receive the highest vote count, Manawi said.

"There was no compromise involved in the decisions that we made," he said. Manawi stressed that he still considered the court illegal but that the commission agreed to review earlier decisions in order to put the matter to rest.

Regardless of the reasoning, it is still not clear whether the decision by the election commission will be enough to end the dispute over who belongs in the 249-member body. Many parliamentarians have said they will not accept the removal of any lawmakers.

Two of those who would lose their seats are from Herat province, while the others represent Paktika, Badakhshan, Baghlan, Samangan, Helmand, Faryab and Zabul, Manawi said.

Mohammad Shaker Karger, the lawmaker from Faryab who was selected for removal, said that neither he nor his fellow parliamentarians will give up the fight.

"This is an illegal announcement and it will not be accepted by any member of parliament," Karger said. He noted that the results released before the special court started investigating were approved by the Independent Election Commission and were supposed to be final under Afghan law. He said he didn't see what could have changed in the interim except for political horse-trading.

"I had 6,900 votes and I still have 6,900 votes," said Karger, a second-term lawmaker who previously was the minister of water and energy.

"This is the beginning of another crisis. This is only a political deal that has been made," Karger said.

The man who has been named to replace Karger is Gul Mohammad Pahlawan, a powerful former northern commander.

Other parliamentarians joined opposition to the removal.

"We will not let anyone enter this hall illegally," said Abdul Zahir Qadir, a lawmaker from eastern Nangarhar province, who has been one of the key leaders of a block of parliamentarians fighting against the special court.

Alongside the political wrangling, three government officials were gunned down Sunday.

In southern Helmand province, two men on motorcycles killed the chief prosecutor for Helmand province's Gereshk district, the Interior Ministry said.

In neighboring Kandahar province, an agriculture department officer was killed by unknown insurgents in Kandahar city, said provincial agriculture director Ahmad Shah Roshan.

In the east, a district education director and two tribal leaders were shot and killed by Taliban militants in Paktika province's Omany district, according to a government statement. Also, two Afghan civilians were killed in Yahyakhail district when their motorbike hit a roadside bomb.

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Associated Press writer Mirwais Khan contributed to this report from Kandahar, Afghanistan.

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