Afghan anger over 'rigged' parliamentary vote

Image caption,
Wednesday's demonstration in Kabul was heavily policed

Candidates in Afghanistan's September parliamentary elections are angry it is taking so long to declare the results. They accuse electoral officials of deliberately delaying the announcement while they rig the outcome, a charge the authorities deny.

Analysts say anger over the poll is growing and presents a threat to the country's political stability. Bilal Sarwary reports from Kabul.

Dozens of disgruntled candidates and their supporters took to the streets in the Afghan capital on Wednesday in the latest in a series of protests against alleged electoral fraud in the general election.

Chanting slogans and carrying banners written in Pashto, Dari and English, the protesters demanded that the attorney general's office investigate their claims.

The demonstrators accused the Independent Election Commission (IEC), which organised the 18 September poll, of stealing their votes and manipulating the outcome of the elections.

They also accused the Electoral Complaints Commission (EEC), which deals with complaints relating to the polls, of keeping quiet over what they say is massive electoral malpractice.

"We want the attorney general's office to bring the IEC and ECC to justice," read one banner.

Many candidates participating in Wednesday's rally said they had been deprived of votes in the polls at the behest of their powerful and rich rivals.

"I demand the Afghan government bring the national traitors to book," said Moin Marastyal, a former deputy education minister, who is seeking re-election from the northern province of Kunduz.

"I had secured 5,250 votes. But the IEC has taken into account only 2,000 of these votes. What happened to the other 3,250?

"No-one has the answer," said Mr Marastyal as he marched with protesters towards the United Nation's office in Kabul.

Voters dismayed

With the Afghan national anthem playing in the background, several protesters shouted slogans against Fazel Ahmed Manawi, the chairman of the IEC, calling him a traitor.

Dilawar Fayzan, a candidate from the south-eastern province of Logar, said the IEC had thrown out 2,000 of his votes without giving any reason.

"The law says that the IEC can invalidate a vote only in the presence of a candidate or his representative. But 2,000 of my votes were thrown in the bin in my absence."

Invalidation of votes is the biggest complaint of candidates who stood for elections in remote and insecure provinces.

Mahmoud Gillani, a sitting member of parliament from the southern province of Ghazni, said election officials openly took bribes to steal his votes.

"The IEC says there was no polling in Geru, a district from where I secured thousands of votes. This is when the polling in Geru took place in the presence of 300 observers, 300 army soldiers and 200 policemen.

"Even the Free and Fair Election Foundation of Afghanistan confirmed that voting took place in Geru," Mr Gillani said.

The IEC's Mr Manawi rejects the charges. "How can a single candidate win 90% of the ballots cast in some of the most insecure provinces of the country?" he asked, adding: "I am only implementing the law. In elections, there are winners and losers."

But tension is reportedly growing between Mr Manawi and President Hamid Karzai over the vote count.

Image caption,
Many candidates say they are being cheated

The BBC has learnt that Mr Karzai asked the IEC chairman to bear in mind the danger of political instability in at least two tense meetings over the past few weeks.

"I want the law to be implemented," Mr Karzai is said to have told the IEC chief at a meeting with some of the angry candidates last week.

"Votes can only be invalidated according to the law and in the presence of the candidates. I am not favouring any one candidate from any one tribe. But it is my job to protect the law,'' one of the candidates present at the meeting quoted the president as saying.

Mr Manawi has been tipped to be the next chief justice of Afghanistan, but some officials now say the tension between him and the president could ruin his chances.

Many Afghans are dismayed by the way the country's elections have become tainted.

Mr Karzai himself was at the centre of a row over electoral fraud in last year's controversial presidential vote.

"When we had elections in 2004. We thought this will help bring peace," said one disappointed Kabul shopkeeper, Mohammad Hussain, a father of six who has voted in all three of the country's elections since 2004.

"But elections are now a source of corruption and instability. What we want is peace. The delay in the result is creating confusion and fear - not hope.''

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