Afghan election candidates took to the streets of Kabul on Wednesday to protest against a polling process they say was corrupt and shameful ahead of the expected announcement of final results from the September 18 vote.
Afghanistan's Independent Election Commission (IEC) has said it would announce the winners of 249 seats in the lower house of parliament, or wolesi jirga , after a delay that lasted more than two months due to investigations into fraud complaints.
The credibility of the eventual result will weigh heavily on U.S. President Barack Obama's review of his Afghan war strategy, due to be released next month, amid rising violence and sagging public support, especially after a fraud-marred presidential election last year.
Consistent allegations of vote fraud in both polls have raised questions about the credibility of Afghan President Hamid Karzai's government at a time when U.S. and NATO officials have been re-examining their long-term commitment in Afghanistan.
|Afghan President Hamid Karzai speaks during a press conference in Kabul, Afghanistan on Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2010|
The protesters, mostly candidates who failed to win a seat and their supporters, have organized a string of demonstrations in the capital and warned that failure to address grievances about the poll would only push Afghans toward the insurgency.
Some of the protesters, including a handful of women and turban-wearing men, looked like they had travelled from outside Kabul.
"We have gathered here today to protest against the illegal election," said lawmaker Noor ul Haq Olomi, from southern Kandahar province, the Taliban's heartland.
"It doesn't matter who is winning or losing, we will continue to protest until the officials in the government hear us and the Afghan people learn about the widespread fraud that happened during this election."
Disgruntled candidates, lawmakers and supporters have in recent weeks called for the September poll to be scrapped and a new election ordered.
A U.N.-backed election watchdog said on Sunday nearly one in 10 winning candidates had been disqualified for fraud.
Sunday's disqualifications by the U.N.-backed Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) cleared the way for the Afghan government's IEC to release the final results.
There were more than 6,000 complaints lodged with ECC and the IEC has already thrown out almost a quarter of the 5.6 million votes cast as invalid. The IEC also is being investigated by the attorney general's office over election fraud.
Late on Tuesday, Afghan television also reported two election officials had been suspended by the attorney general's office for "making statements against the national interest". The attorney general's office declined immediate comment.