KABUL -- A special Afghan court set up by President Hamid Karzai has thrown out the results from about a quarter of the races in last year's fraud-plagued parliamentary elections.
The move is causing deep splits in Afghanistan's political system shortly before U.S. troops are due to begin pulling out.
The election victories of 62 of the 249 lawmakers in the Wolesi Jirga (People's Council) lower house were overturned by the special tribumal. The court has ordered those lawmakers to vacate their seats and be replaced by new members because of alleged poll fraud.
In one district in the western Herat Province, a lawmaker who had been declared the winner saw 5,000 votes stripped from his total, while another losing candidate was awarded 12,000 more votes after the recount, reversing the original result.
Armed soldiers stood guard behind the special court judges as the head of the tribunal, Sidiquallah Haqiq, read out the new results and informed disqualified lawmakers about their right to appeal the ruling.
"We have met the trust they had confided in us and we will be answerable for that. Every one of you has the right to appeal," Haqiq said.
"The Afghan Supreme Court has given you this right. Those who have lost their seats have the same right to appeal. God is present and we are answerable to him as well."
Despite the allegations of fraud, the new parliament was seated in Kabul in late January.
Meanwhile, there was cheering and applause among the newly declared winners and their supporters. Among the new winners was Daud Sultanzoy from Ghazni Province.
"The law is clear. We forwarded our case to the court and my right to appeal was respected. Now it is up to the Attorney General's Office to respect the rights of the people," Sultanzoy said.
"Those who abused the law, caused such an expensive expenditure for the nation and caused so much trouble and damage, should be prosecuted by the Attorney General's Office."
Outrage In Parliament
In Kabul, angry lawmakers on the parliament floor challenged the legitimacy of the special court. They have threatened to hold demonstrations against what they say is a power grab by President Karzai.
Abdul Raouf Ibrahimi, a 50-year-old ethnic Uzbek from Konduz who was elected speaker of the lower house, is opposed to today's court ruling.
Ibrahimi backed a decision by the Wolesi Jirga early today to establish a special commission to challenge the court ruling and issue formal complaints to representatives of foreign governments.
"You the members of the new special commission have the right to sit together and make a working plan," he said, "and to share this plan with the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, the U.S. Embassy, the British Embassy, the European Union, and all other embassies."
Despite the widespread allegations of fraud last year, Karzai agreed to open the parliament in January
It was not immediately clear how today's court ruling would affect legislation already passed by the Wolesi Jirga since January in votes where the 62 disqualified lawmakers took part. Those votes included the election of Ibrahimi as parliament speaker as well as passage of Afghanistan's current budget.
The Afghan Electoral Complaints Commission last year received nearly 3,500 written complaints of election fraud. The commission initially voided more than 1.3 million ballots after fraud investigations -- or about 20 percent of the vote.
Twenty-one elected s also were initially disqualified by election officials due to fraud allegations.
written by Ron Synovitz, with material from RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan in Kabul