Afghanistan's deputy attorney general said on Wednesday an investigation has been started into allegations by candidates that the country's election commission was involved in fraud during September's parliamentary election.
A Sept. 18 poll for the lower house of parliament, or wolesi jirga, went ahead despite a Taliban threat to disrupt it but already close to a quarter of the votes have been disqualified by the country's election commission.
The credibility of the vote will weigh heavily when U.S. President Barack Obama reviews his Afghanistan war strategy in December amid rising violence and sagging public support. It will also likely be discussed at a NATO summit in Lisbon this month.
"We have assigned three prosecutors to investigate staff of the election commission over allegations of fraud, based on complaints from candidates," Deputy Attorney General Rahmatullah Nazari said.
On Tuesday, disgruntled lawmakers, candidates and their supporters demonstrated in Kabul, calling for the election to be scrapped amid allegations that Independent Election Commission (IEC) officials had been involved in fraud.
The protesters took to the streets for a second day on Wednesday, and said they plan to hold further rallies.
Preliminary results were announced following delays last month while the election body recounted votes from hundreds of polling sites.
Final results, which were due at the end of last month, have been pushed back while a separate, U.N.-backed election watchdog sifts through thousands of complaints and decides whether to invalidate more votes.
While thousands of formal and informal complaints have been pouring in about the election since polling day, there had until this week been few calls for the ballot to be held again.
Western nations have been wary of following Afghan officials in dubbing the election a success after the fiasco of last year's fraud-marred presidential ballot. The top U.N. envoy in Afghanistan said last month "considerable fraud" had taken place. The IEC, which was also accused of fraud in last year's presidential poll, was given more powers this year, including the ability to disqualify votes on its own.
The U.N.-backed Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) is not allowed to investigate or adjudicate on ballots already thrown out by the IEC, including ballots over which complaints have been lodged. On Tuesday it said it had received more than 6,000 complaints, about 2,000 of which could affect the outcome.