Afghanistan's top electoral body has recommended barring 35 candidates from running in the upcoming parliamentary polls after it alleged they had links to armed groups.
The Independent Electoral Complaints Commission (IECC)on August 11 listed the names of the candidates, which included 12 currently serving members of parliament. It also warned 45 other candidates.
The IECC announced plans for the move on August 5, but said the list was not complete at that time and that candidates could appeal.
The names of the candidates have been sent to the Independent Election Commission (IEC), which will announce the final electoral rolls. Most of the candidates on the IECC disqualification list have already filed appeals.
The IECC is led by members from the Interior and Defense ministries, the National Directorate of Security, and the Independent Directorate of Local Governance.
The IECC said the disqualification list was finalized after a monthlong investigation after hundreds of complaints were received from voters about candidates in 34 provinces.
Some candidates were allegedly involved in cases of murder, rape, and extortion, the committee said.
"We disqualified the candidates because we want to clean the process and finally hold free and fair elections," IECC spokesman Alirez Rohani said.
Some of those named are influential lawmakers and strongmen, and the decision could raise political tensions in the country.
"The IECC did not even provide the opportunity to the disqualified candidates to defend themselves," said Fawzia Kofi, a lawmaker from Badakhshan Province who was on the list.
Kofi has been accused of funding an armed group to retain control over her constituency. She has rejected the allegations.
"These are politically motivated accusations. My supporters will start a protest march to prove my innocence," Kofi said.
Tolo News reported that officials and residents of Kunduz criticized the decision to disqualify a candidate from the region, closing down the local IECC office and sending a letter to the committee to express their anger.
"We want the commission to respond to our demand and explain that why this young candidate has been dropped from the list? Land grabbers weren’t disqualified, but this youth who is a defender of human rights and democracy has been removed from the list," said Turyalai Kakar, a member of the Kunduz Provincial Council.
Some 2,300 candidates across Afghanistan have filed to run in the parliamentary elections, scheduled for October 20.
The vote is seen as a crucial test for democracy in the war-ravaged country and is seen as a key test of the credibility and popularity of President Ashraf Ghani's government.
The presidential election is scheduled for April 20, 2019.
With reporting by Reuters, Tolo News, and Pajhwok Afghan News