A special court in Afghanistan on Thursday overturned the election results of nearly 25 percent of the assembly seats due to poll fraud in last September's parliamentary elections [IEC backgrounder]. Head of the special court Sediqullah Haqiq announced the ruling [Reuters report] that 62 out of the 249 legislators in the Wolesi Jirga [official website] elected last year have to vacate their seats and be replaced, sending the government into turmoil just as the US announced a major troop withdrawal. Afghan President Hamid Karzai [official profile, JURIST news archive] set up the special court by decree, which critics claim was to invalidate election gains made by his political opponents. Karzai's ethnic group and the base of the Taliban was underrepresented in the elections. Furthermore, the constitutional authority for the special court is in question, and it is unclear whether there can be any appeal. Haqiq announced the ruling as "final" but ousted legislators are submitting letters to the country's Supreme Court. Enforcement of the ruling is also unclear as it orders the Independent Election Commission (IEC) [official website] to disqualify the legislators whose elections it deems invalid, but the IEC does not recognize the legitimacy [AFP report] of the special court. Last September's election was marred by widespread allegations of fraud, as was the 2009 presidential election [JURIST news archive] in which Karzai came to power.
With the US withdrawing troops, ongoing disputes over irregularities in last September's parliamentary elections have raised doubts about the stability of the Afghan government. Last January, Karzai postponed the seating [JURIST report] of Parliament following a request by the special court for more time to look into allegations of fraud surrounding the elections. Karzai had promised [JURIST report] to have the special court review the election results in time to seat the election by the original January deadline. But the IEC claims that the special does not have legal authority to question the results that it certifies because the law says it has the final say in determining the elections results. 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.