KABUL, Afghanistan – Vote recounts that could throw doubt on the legitimacy of Afghanistan's parliament are under way in 10 provinces even as the legislature starts work with its newly elected speaker, election officials said Monday.
Afghanistan's parliament — one of few checks on the administration of President Hamid Karzai — was finally inaugurated in late January after months of investigations and debate over allegations of widespread fraud during the polling. But continued questions about who was rightfully elected could undermine the lawmakers' authority as they start trying to pass laws and the impending budget.
The parliament spent its first few weeks trying to elect a speaker and multiple rounds of voting produced a winner on Sunday. The international community welcomed the choice of former northern warlord Abdul Raouf Ebrahimi as a sign that lawmakers could now get on to the work of governing.
But a Karzai-backed special tribunal has reopened investigations into the vote fraud and the tribunal has already started 10 of the country's 34 provinces, said Abdullah Ahmadzai, the national election commission's chief electoral officer. He said the tribunal has said it may continue on with a recount in every province.
The recounts are considered illegal by election officials and international advisers, but the tribunal insists that it has the power to overturn results and even order entire provinces to revote. Karzai — who is widely seen as unhappy with the new parliament — has said that he expects the special court to act legally, but has not held it back from conducting recounts.
It's unclear what will happen if those conducting the recounts decide that current winners — who have already been sworn in as members of parliament — are illegitimate.
Ahmadzai said election officials are cooperating with the representatives from the special court, but do not recognize its authority.
"The results have been certified. The members have been sworn in. There is no legal mechanism for changing the results of this year's election," Ahmadzai said. He said the recounts do not appear to be taking place according to any set plan, that people just show up at various provincial offices and start rifling through boxes of ballots.
The election commission chief in northern Baghlan province said about 14 or 15 people have now spent three days going through piles of votes.
"They come and sit in an office and then they ask for the ballot boxes. So we've brought them the ballot boxes," he said, explaining that he had been ordered to cooperate but was not otherwise involved.
It is unclear whether Ebrahimi — the new speaker — will be able to rally parliamentarians together or to stand up to Karzai — who has often bulldozed laws past the legislature by issuing them as decrees when parliament was in recess. Karzai's office issued a statement congratulating Ebrahimi on his new post immediately after he was elected.
Karzai's former presidential opponent said he does not trust in the Karzai administration to work with the legislature.
"Two forces which are acting against the democratic process, unfortunately, today, are the government of Afghanistan and the Taliban," said Abdullah Abdullah, who is currently working to organize an opposition party. "So democracy, and the initial baby steps that we have taken are gravely challenged."
The other provinces undergoing recounts are Kunduz, Baghlan, Badakshan, Takhar, Laghman, Kunar, Samangan, Paktia and Khost, Ahmadzai said.