KABUL (Reuters) - Afghanistan announced on Wednesday the final batch of results from a September 18 parliamentary election, with poll organisers aiming to wrap up a vote marred by widespread fraud and pave the way for a new parliament.
The Independent Election Commission (IEC) said preliminary winners would hold their seats in southeastern Ghazni province. The results were delayed because the victors are all ethnic Hazaras even though around half Ghazni’s population is Pashtun.
Pashtun areas were plagued by the worst violence on the day of the vote, and in one district just three people voted.
Election officials released results for Afghanistan’s other 33 provinces and for Kuchi nomads a week ago, but delayed Ghazni because of technical issues and irregularities.
There were concerns Pashtuns might react badly if all seats went to the Hazaras, and also speculation that the IEC might call a rerun in Ghazni, or allow the members from the last parliament, who reflect a more balanced ethnic mix, to stay in their seats while a deal was worked out.
But in the end the election organiser stuck with the votes, holding on to some credibility after a much-criticised poll.
“For the election commission, ethnicity, language or religious sect do not matter and we have completed our job responsibly,” IEC chairman Fazl Ahmad Manawi told reporters.
There was no indication when a new wolesi jirga, or lower house of parliament, would be formed. Election officials had suggested last week the new 249-seat house would be formed soon.
“We look forward to the prompt inauguration of the wolesi jirga as an important further step in Afghanistan’s strengthening of its democratic governance,” the United Nations mission in Afghanistan said in a statement.
The U.N. mission has congratulated Afghan election officials for conducting an election in the middle of a violent insurgency, but has also noted “considerable fraud” took place.
Afghan officials claimed success on election day because violence was limited, but results were delayed for several weeks by a mountain of complaints about fraud. As a result, the country has also been without a parliament for months.
The final evaluation of the poll will weigh heavily when U.S. President Barack Obama reviews his Afghan war strategy next month amid rising violence and sagging public support, especially after a fraud-marred presidential election last year.
President Hamid Karzai has been critical of the poll, which is likely to have produced a parliament with a larger, more vocal and more coherent opposition bloc than he has faced previously.
As candidates run as independents — to prevent ethnic factionalism — it is hard to sort out affiliations yet.
“The president might have concerns but we have done our job professionally,” Manawi said.
Writing by Emma Graham-Harrison; Editing by Paul Tait and Ron Popeski