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Karzai delays parliament's inauguration as court investigates electoral fraud

By Joshua Partlow
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, January 19, 2011; 10:07 PM

KABUL - Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Wednesday ordered a one-month delay in the seating of a new parliament that was elected in September, further prolonging the nation's political turmoil.

Karzai's decision follows the recommendation of a special court he appointed to investigate electoral fraud. In a statement, Karzai said the inauguration, which had been planned for Sunday, will be pushed back to give the court time to continue to investigate.

The decision is significant because it leaves the nation without a critical check on executive power for at least another month; Karzai will effectively rule by decree in the interim. It also raises the possibility that Karzai's government is looking for ways to change the election's results, which went against many of his supporters. In the eastern province of Ghazni, Karzai's ethnic group, the Pashtuns, failed to win a single seat, even though they constitute a majority in the province.

In the months after the contested election, aides close to Karzai suggested that new results, or a new election, were likely if those investigating electoral fraud found compelling evidence of wrongdoing. Those options are strongly opposed by the winning candidates, who view Karzai as desperately attempting to engineer a different outcome.

The situation is a reversal of circumstances from the last presidential election, in 2009, when Karzai fought against allegations of voting fraud that threatened to unseat him and were highlighted by U.S. officials. This time, Afghan officials have trumpeted the fraud allegations while U.S. officials have argued the results should stand. Western diplomats said Wednesday that they were rushing to assess the situation and deal with the fallout.

A senior Afghan official described the Karzai administration's decision as simply responding to the recommendation of the court. "We are following the court demand," the official said.

The country's election commission has already thrown out 1.3 million votes, about a quarter of the total, because of widespread fraud. But the commission has also certified the final results and has contested the legality of the Karzai-appointed court.

The court's chief judge, Sediqullah Haqiq, said Wednesday that it had the authority to dismiss all of the election results if necessary.

The post-election turmoil has involved a series of protests by losing candidates who say that fraud denied them a rightful victory.

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