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Afghanistan Officials Cancel About 23 Percent of Parliamentary Votes

UN workers unload disputed ballot boxes from a UN helicopter at Kabul International Airport before being transferred to the Independent Elections Commission (IEC) warehouse for auditing, in Kabul, Afghanistan, 29 Sep 2009 (file photo)

Election officials in Afghanistan have canceled nearly 23 percent of the 5.6 million ballots cast in last month's parliamentary election.

The election for Afghanistan's 'wolesi jirga' - or lower house of the parliament - was held on 18 Sept. There were widespread allegations of fraud and irregularities, in addition to insurgent attacks on voters, candidates and organizers.

Top officials of the country's Independent Election Commission, or IEC, told reporters Wednesday in Kabul while releasing provisional results that 5.6 million votes had been cast on the polling day, but they have thrown out 1.3 million of them for various reasons.

Chief electoral officer of the Commission, Abdullah Ahmadzai, said that recounting and audit of votes at more than 3,000 polling stations led to the disqualification of the ballots.

"All the decisions that we have made were with the regard to disqualification of those polling centers where the IEC confirmed that voting did not take place," said Ahmadzai. "We had opened the polling centers, but voting did not take place according to the IEC procedures. Therefore those polling centers were disqualified by the IEC."

Taliban insurgents had stepped up attacks before and on the polling day to try to disrupt the country's second parliamentary election since a U.S-led attack on Afghanistan ousted the extremists from power nine years ago.

But despite the threat, low turnout and more than 4,000 formal complaints of fraud, as well as irregularities, Afghan election authorities have hailed the poll a success.

The U.N-backed Electoral Complaints Commission is investigating the allegations of fraud and vote-rigging against more than 200 candidates. The process is likely to delay the final results that originally were set to be announced at the end of this month. The probe is expected to lead to cancelation of more ballots.

There were more than 2,500 candidates for the 249 seats in the lower house of the Afghan parliament.

The United States and other allies were skeptical about a fair and free election process even before the polls, and they have yet to dub the poll a success.

However, top U.S officials believe the new parliament will hold the key to success of the process aimed at strengthening Afghanistan's political system, which currently is rife with corruption, and generally seen to help influential warlords in the country.

Last year's presidential election, in which President Hamid Karzai won a new term in office, was marred by widespread fraud.