South Asia

Afghan election officials suspended

An Afghan youth rides his bicycle past election posters in Kabul on 5 September 2010
Image caption The suspensions are the latest setback to a vote dogged by allegations of corruption

Two senior Afghan election officials have been suspended hours before final results are due from September's poll.

The Independent Election Commission and Electoral Complaints Commission spokesmen are accused of statements against the national interest.

Government supporters say Nur Mohammad Nur of the IEC and Ahmad Zia Rafat of the ECC have sought to undermine the majority Pashtun vote in the poll.

It is the latest setback to a vote that has been dogged by corruption.

The election authorities have already invalidated some 1.3m votes - almost a quarter of those cast - and at the weekend ruled out 19 candidates, who had been declared winners in preliminary results.

The disqualifications prompted rallies this week in Kabul and other cities calling for the commissions to be scrapped. A number of candidates took part, complaining their votes had been stolen by well-connected rivals.

A judge is expected to receive files from the attorney general against Nur Mohammad Nur and Ahmad Zia Rafat on Wednesday.

Both men have criticised the way the votes were being validated, allegedly in favour of Pashtun candidates, correspondents say.

Widespread irregularities

The BBC's Paul Wood in Kabul says that President Karzai is reported to be deeply worried about the ethnic split in the vote - with many Pashto-speaking candidates being rejected at the ballot box.

One senior diplomat told the BBC that the president had threatened, privately, to annul the results of the election - something he was asked about by the BBC at a news conference.

"Destablisation of the country, I'm sure, will not happen and we will not allow that. But of course we want an election that will reflect the aspirations of the Afghan people, that will further democracy into consolidation and that will unite the Afghan people," he said.

The UN-backed ECC has been investigating claims of widespread irregularities surrounding the poll for the 249 seats in the lower house of parliament.

Further controversy over the election was caused by the preliminary results, which showed that Pashtuns - who are Afghanistan's largest ethnic group and who traditionally form the backbone of any government - lost their majority in parliament.

Pashtun leaders say the reason is because the nine-year-old Taliban insurgency is mostly concentrated in the Pashtun-dominated south and east, preventing them from voting.

They say that a good example of this is restive Ghazni province, where Pastuns are in the majority yet Hazaras won all 11 seats - even though they only constitute the third largest ethnic group.

Correspondents say there has been a growing row between President Hamid Karzai and the electoral authorities.

Mr Karzai has claimed they create political instability, while he in turn has been accused of meddling.

One international official dismissed the attorney-general's action as petty and said he was confident that the country's electoral bodies would not be deflected from giving the final results of the election, opening the way for the parliament to be formed.

Last year, Mr Karzai's re-election was also overshadowed by fraud when the ECC threw out a third of the votes cast for him.

Turnout was around 40% in Afghanistan's second parliamentary election since the US-led invasion of nine years ago.

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