New Candidates May Win Half of Afghan Parliament Seats Amid Ballot Fraud

New candidates may win half the seats in Afghanistan’s lower house of parliament amid fraud complaints that forced the scrapping of nearly a quarter of votes cast in last month’s poll, the election commission said.

“The preliminary results indicate that as many as 50 percent of the members may be new faces” in the 249-seat Wolesi Jirga, or House of the People, commission chairman Fazil Ahmad Manawi told reporters at a press conference today in Kabul.

President Hamid Karzai often clashed with the previous parliament over his cabinet appointments. The power of Afghanistan’s parliament is limited by strong presidential authority, and by the absence of broad political parties to exert leadership in the legislature.

As Karzai has faced corruption allegations and President Barack Obama confronts declining public support for a war with the Taliban that this year is costing the U.S. $105 billion, both governments wanted the election to help cement the political system built since 2001.

The U.S.-backed Afghan government has faced problems of political legitimacy partly due to corruption and also because vote fraud tainted Karzai’s re-election last year, said Waliullah Rahmani, director of the Kabul Center for Strategic Studies, in the capital, and other analysts.

As in last year’s vote, the Independent Election Commission received complaints of ballot stuffing and other malpractice, and has ordered the cancellation of 1.3 million out of 5.6 million votes cast, Manawi said. That decision will be reviewed by a separate agency, the Election Complaints Commission said, leaving it uncertain when final results will be announced.

Results Audit

Candidates have complained of the month-long delay in announcing preliminary results.

The Independent Election Commission received more than 3,000 fraud complaints, originating from each of the country’s 34 provinces, Manawi said. That means all results will be audited by the complaints commission, which is headed by a Supreme Court justice, Sayed Murad Sharifi.

The Washington-based National Democratic Institute, which sent observers to 730 polling stations in 30 out of 34 provinces, said in a Sept. 20 report that the conduct of the ballot showed “substantial improvement over past elections,” in part due to the removal of 6,000 officials suspected of fraud in the 2009 presidential poll and the introduction of unique serial numbers on voting slips.

Vote Delay

While this year’s parliamentary vote was due by law to take place by May, officials postponed it until Sept. 18 in the hope that the U.S. deployment of 30,000 more troops, taking NATO’s strength in Afghanistan to 142,000 soldiers, might provide better security.

The Taliban movement, which four years ago was concentrated in a half-dozen provinces on the border with Pakistan, is now a threat nationwide, says the Kabul-based Afghan NGO Security Office, which advises aid organizations.

This year 596 coalition troops have been killed in the Afghan war, double the 295 who died in 2008, according to icasualities.org, a website that tracks the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. Last year, there were 521 fatalities among international forces.

Today’s announcement came amid reports that Karzai has initiated talks with the Taliban movement. The New York Times reported Oct. 14 that U.S. and NATO leaders are letting senior Taliban representatives attend peace negotiations in Kabul, citing NATO and Obama administration officials.

While the discussions are preliminary, they indicate the U.S. is supporting talks designed to end the war in the country, the newspaper said.

In a May 12 press conference with Karzai, Obama cited “credible parliamentary elections” as a part of efforts by both countries to improve Afghan governance.

To contact the reporters on this story: Eltaf Najafizada in Kabul, Afghanistan, at enajafizada1@bloomberg.net; James Rupert in New Delhi at jrupert3@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Bill Austin at billaustin@bloomberg.net,

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