Afghan President Hamid Karzai [official profile, JURIST news archive] on Wednesday announced a one-month postponement in the seating of the country's new parliament, following a request by a high court judicial tribunal asking for more time to look into allegations of fraud surrounding last September's parliamentary elections [IEC backgrounder]. Karzai issued a decree [JURIST report] in December authorizing the country's Supreme Court [official website] to review all issues with the election including allegations of criminal fraud and intimidation at the polls. The five-judge panel announced earlier this month [JURIST report] that they would issue rulings in time for Karzai to seat the parliament as scheduled. The announcement of a further delay has raised concerns [WP report] that the Afghan government is looking for ways to challenge the validity of the election results. The tumultuous elections resulted in many of Karzai's supporters being ousted from the government and have led to questions concerning the credibility [Reuters] of the government. Candidates who were removed from office in the elections have warned that unfair rulings by the panel could result in increased violence [NYT report], while winning candidates have threatened violent protests if the election results are overturned. Karzai has assured that the delay will not go beyond February 22, which would mean that Afghanistan had been without a parliament for more than five months. The Afghan parliament was originally scheduled to be seated on January 23 and there is fear that further delays will lead to instability in the region.
The September parliamentary elections irregularities have raised doubts over the ability of the Afghan government to lead. 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 Independent Elections Commission (IEC) [official website] 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, leading to attempts by the government [JURIST report] to reform the ECC.