Afghanistan's Independent Election Commission has announced final results from September's parliamentary elections in 34 of the 35 voting constituencies -- saying another three candidates announced as preliminary winners have been disqualified for fraud.
The announcement comes more than two months after Afghans cast ballots in the country's second parliamentary polls since the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001. Electoral authorities last month invalidated nearly one-quarter of votes cast because of fraud or other irregularities.
The disqualifications raise to 24 the total number of candidates stripped of an initial victory due to irregularities.
Fazil Ahmad Manawi, head of the Independent Electoral Commission
Fazil Ahmad Manawi, head of the Independent Election Commission (IEC), said final official results are still pending from the province of Ghazni because of "technical problems" that complicated the vote.
"Due to technical problems, one province -- [Ghazni] -- is still in the process of being counted," Manawi said. "In one or two days, a maximum of a week -- we will complete that process and release the results."
But another commission member, Abdullah Ahmadzai, said that a decision still must be made about whether the results in Ghazni should be certified. Other options are to conduct a new ballot or suspend the election in Ghazni until circumstances permit a new ballot there.Results 'Bought And Sold'?
In Ghazni, many polling stations were closed during the September 18 ballot because of security concerns. Results from other polling stations in the province were invalidated because of fraud or because voter turnout was almost nonexistent.
According to the initial results, Pashtuns -- the largest ethnic group in Afghanistan -- failed to win any parliamentary seats in Ghazni. Pashtun leaders in Ghazni say battles against the Taliban prevented many Pashtun voters from going to the polls.
The preliminary results from Ghazni show ethnic Hazara candidates winning all 11 parliamentary seats in the province, which has been a flashpoint for violence since the Taliban regime fled Kabul nine years ago.
President Hamid Karzai, himself an ethnic Pashtun, has said he would be in favor of a new election in Ghazni for the sake of Afghan national unity.
Meanwhile, Afghanistan's top prosecutor cast doubt on the official results by announcing he was launching a criminal investigation into ballot fraud. He reacted to the commission announcement by calling the release of results "premature."
Mohammad Ishaq Alako has alleged that results were "bought and sold" by powerful, well-connected Afghans who keep their money in Dubai.
Alako said he had evidence and documents proving that "the decision about the Afghan election has been made in Dubai and in Kabul's foreign-exchange market." He said if his investigation was not accepted, he would resign from his post.
A day later, prosecutors said they had arrested senior election officials and launched new criminal probes into vote fraud. Alako's deputy, Rahmatullah Nazari, said two of the four new arrests were in decision-making posts and two others were money dealers involved in alleged vote fraud.
If any new probe went forward, it would be the third investigation into the balloting. Legitimacy Questioned
Although his allegations referred to criminal charges, Alako's comments suggest his investigation would cover the entire electoral process -- a move that already is being challenged by some officials in Kabul as unconstitutional.
An Independent Electoral Commission worker handles a voting card during counting after the September vote.
Alako also said he has suspended the spokesmen for Afghanistan's two main independent electoral organizations -- the IEC, which organized the vote, and the Electoral Complaints Commission, which investigates allegations of fraud and misconduct. The prosecutor said both spokesmen had made what he called "irresponsible" remarks to the media -- including disparaging remarks about the prosecutor's office.
It was unclear whether the prosecutor's office has the authority to suspend the spokesmen. Both spokesmen said they had received no official notice of being suspended and had heard about the development only through media reports.
IEC spokesman Nur Mohammad Nur said the Afghan Constitution stipulated that the Electoral Complaints Commission has the responsibility of reviewing cases of fraud. He said any government organization that had any evidence of fraud should share the evidence with the Electoral Complaints Commission itself.
"If such an act [of fraud] has been carried out by any official of the Election Commission, in that case the Attorney-General's Office can share these concerns with the Afghan Independent Election Commission," Nur said. "We are ready to cooperate with the Attorney-General's Office and the courts."
The 24 disqualified candidates who had been announced as winners in preliminary results were from across Afghanistan. At least seven are reported to be former members of parliament. At least five of the disqualified candidates are from the western province of Herat.'Serious' Problems
Earlier this month, a recording emerged that appears to contain the voice of Afghan Energy Minister Mohammad Ismail Khan instructing ballot counters to eliminate his political opponents from the ballot and declare his allies as winners. Ismail Khan, the powerful former governor of Herat and a former mujahedin commander who fought against both Soviet troops and the Taliban, still holds sway over much of the province through loyal militia fighters.
Jan Dad Spinghar, head of a Kabul-based nongovernmental election monitoring group called the Free and Fair Election Foundation, insists there was so much electoral fraud that the vote results will not be accepted by the Afghan people.
"There are concerns that the results announced will, to a large extent, not be acceptable to the candidates nor to the Afghan people," Spinghar says. "As a result, the legitimacy of the parliament will be undermined."
The Electoral Complaints Commission says it received more than 5,000 complaints of fraud in the wake of the vote. About half of those complaints were classified as "serious."
Afghanistan's emerging opposition leader, former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, said more than 90 of his supporters had won seats in the 249-seat parliament. It remained unclear whether Abdullah would be able to muster enough support from other lawmakers to form a majority coalition in the legislature.
Meanwhile, President Karzai criticized supporters of disqualified candidates who have been staging street demonstrations against the rulings in Kabul, Herat, Konduz, Nangahar, and the northwestern province of Baghlan.
"Some of our candidates who have not won seats are complaining about the election," Karzai said. "They have a right to complain. If someone complains about this election, they can go to our justice system and register their complaint there. That is the right place to go and complain. But blocking the roads and launching violence because they have not won a seat is not the right thing to do and is a malicious act against the country. They should not do this."
The disqualified candidates do not have the right to directly appeal the rulings against them by electoral officials.
While acknowledging irregularities and fraud, both the U.S. Embassy in Kabul and the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) welcomed certification of the voting results.
Staffan de Mistura, the UN secretary-general's special representative in Afghanistan, praised the IEC and the Electoral Complaints Commission for "identify[ing] and deal[ing] with these problems."
He called their efforts "a significant step in the development of Afghanistan's national electoral capacity."with additional agency reporting