Afghan election watchdog disqualifies 19 winners
Kabul: Afghanistan`s election watchdog on Sunday stripped 19 winners in the country`s parliamentary election, including President Hamid Karzai`s first cousin, of their victories because of fraud.
The candidates were disqualified as part of a probe by the Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) into widespread claims of irregularities that tarnished the September 18 poll for the 249-seat lower house of parliament or Wolesi Jirga.
The poll was only the second parliamentary election to be held in Afghanistan since the hardline Islamist Taliban regime was overthrown nine years ago in a US-led invasion.
It was meant to show Karzai`s commitment to tackling widespread corruption after a presidential election last year that was beset with claims of fraud, mostly in the president`s favour.
But ECC spokesman Ahmad Zia Rafaat told a news conference in Kabul: "All the votes of 19 candidates who were declared winners in the preliminary results... have been nullified by the ECC due to massive fraud."
The results of two losing candidates, who had the next highest amount of votes and stood to gain by the disqualifications, were also struck out for the same reason, Rafaat added.
None of the candidates has a right to appeal the decision.
A list of the disqualified candidates shows that they were from across the country.
Most stood as independents, although some had links to senior Afghan officials, including Hashmat Khalil Karzai, the president`s cousin, who stood in the volatile southern city of Kandahar that is the Taliban`s spiritual home.
Seven people whose victories were cancelled were sitting members of parliament seeking re-election.
The ECC received more than 5,000 complaints of voter fraud from losing candidates and election authorities in the wake of the poll.
Of those, 2,500 complaints were classed as "serious". It was not clear whether any more disqualifications would be announced, but the long-awaited final result is now expected within days.
Some 1.3 million of the total 5.6 million votes cast have already been cancelled.
The probe came as preliminary results announced in October showed that many Pashtun candidates from Afghanistan`s single biggest ethnic group -- of which the Karzais are members -- had not won seats.
The United Nations, which backs the ECC, has said it is "essential" that the review of suspect ballots and the final result was concluded swiftly and without interference, amid claims of political pressure on electoral bodies.
Rafaat though denied rumours of political interference in the review process.
"We have not been under pressure by any government or non-government officials," he told reporters.
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