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Afghanistan high court to investigate election complaints in time to seat government

Afghanistan's five-judge panel set up last week to investigate election complaints said Monday that it will issue rulings in time for President Hamid Karzai [BBC profile, JURIST news archive] to seat the parliament as scheduled on January 20. Karzai has promised to have the parliament seated [NYT report] on time amid controversy surrounding the results of last September's parliamentary elections [IEC backgrounder]. However, the Independent Election Commission (IEC) [official website] claims that the panel does not have legal authority to question the results that it certifies. It claims that the law says it has the final say in determining the elections results and that the Supreme Court is setting a dangerous precedent by ruling outside its mandate. Controversy surrounds the ethnic representation of the parliament as a result of the elections. The Pashtuns, of which Karzai is a member, make up over half the country's population but only won 94 out of 249 seats. The winning candidates and some critics from the West argue [WSJ report] that the panel is meant to bolster Karzai's support in government, but his office has denied such accusations saying that the panel is independent. The panel is facing more than 400 cases of alleged fraud to investigate over the next two weeks.

Last week Karzai approved the Supreme Court's plan to review the last September's parliamentary elections which were marred by irregularities and accusations of fraud. In November, the Afghanistan Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) [official website] disqualified 21 candidates [JURST report] for electoral fraud after finding widespread voting irregularities in 12 provinces. Of the disqualified candidates, 19 had either won or were leading in their districts, seven of which were incumbents, and two were second place finishers in districts where the first place finisher was also disqualified. In October, the IEC invalidated 1.3 million votes [JURIST report], nearly a quarter of the 5.6 million votes cast nationwide, due to findings of fraud. The IEC found that the 2,543 polling stations where the votes had been cast did not follow IEC procedures. The 2009 presidential election [JURIST news archive] of Karzai was also marred by fraud allegations.

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