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Monday, December 27, 2010

Afghan leader orders new court for poll complaints

KABUL | Mon Dec 27, 2010 3:07am EST
KABUL (Reuters) - A new court will be set up in Afghanistan to specifically hear fraud complaints from September's parliamentary election before the assembly can be formed, a senior official said on Monday.The last of the results from the September 18 vote were released on December 1 and President Hamid Karzai's office had promised a new parliament would be formed on January 20 -- more than a month after disgruntled lawmakers demanded a new assembly be formed.
Political uncertainty has increased in the months since the vote, with scores of losing candidates holding street protests and tension rising over reports the attorney general -- like Karzai, from Afghanistan's main ethnic Pashtun group -- had asked for the vote to be annulled.
Late on Sunday, Karzai issued a decree ordering the formation of a special court from within the Supreme Court structure to deal with the complaints by disgruntled candidates, Karzai's legal adviser Nasrullah Stanekzai told Reuters.
"Basically the decree of the president about the creation of a special court (dealing) with the election problems is part of the authority of the Supreme Court on the basis of the law," Stanekzai said.
The new court will involve five judges and deal with wider legal aspects of the electoral complaints, Stanekzai said. The attorney general's office would verify aspects of criminality, such as fraud and intimidation, related to the poll, he said.
The court is meant to deal with complaints quickly so that
Karzai could open the new parliament on January 20, Stanekzai said.
Allegations of fraud in the September ballot -- and a 2009 presidential election in which about a third of Karzai's votes were thrown out as fake -- have raised questions about his government's credibility as a partner as U.S. and NATO leaders assess their long-term commitment to Afghanistan.
Fraud complaints this time around included fake voter cards, multiple voting and intimidation, prompting the attorney general's office to push for a recount.
In response, Afghanistan's Independent Election Commission (IEC) two weeks ago accused the attorney general's office of making "irresponsible statements." The IEC and Supreme Court have since argued over who has the authority to determine complaints.
The IEC threw out nearly a quarter of the 5.6 million votes cast in September over fraud and technical concerns.
Karzai has been critical of the poll, which is likely to have produced a parliament with a larger, more vocal and coherent opposition than the previous assembly.
That opposition is likely to include larger numbers of ethnic Tajiks and Hazaras to challenge Karzai's main Pashtun bloc.
Until recently, parliament had largely acted as a rubber stamp for Karzai, but it flexed its political muscle earlier this year when it rejected several of his cabinet nominees.
The U.N. mission in Afghanistan and some Western countries which funded the poll have congratulated Afghan election officials for conducting a vote in the middle of an insurgency but the United Nations has also said there was "widespread fraud and irregularities across the country."
(Reporting by Sayed Salahuddin; Editing by Miral Fahmy)

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