x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Afghan parliament to meet in defiance of Karzai

Elections for Afghanistan's Wolesi Jirga, the lower house of the country's National Assembly, were marred from the beginning by accusations of widespread fraud and corruption by candidates, election officials and security forces.

Sidiqullah Haqiq, left, the head of a tribunal set up in Afghanistan to rule on allegations of vote fraud, urged Mr Karzai to delay opening the new parliament.
Sidiqullah Haqiq, left, the head of a tribunal set up in Afghanistan to rule on allegations of vote fraud, urged Mr Karzai to delay opening the new parliament.

KABUL // Afghanistan is on the verge of a deepening political crisis, analysts warned, after the country's new parliament vowed yesterday to meet in defiance of a presidential order to delay their opening session slated for Sunday.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai announced he would delay the inauguration of the country's new parliament by one month on Wednesday. A special elections panel, appointed by Mr Karzai in December, had requested from the president more time to investigate hundreds of allegations of fraud in Afghanistan's legislative polls last fall.

But defiant winning members of parliament said on Friday they would open the new parliament as originally planned, denouncing the elections panel as unconstitutional.

Voters and analysts in Kabul are also worried the postponement will further instability in the country, and weaken a parliament that would have served as an important check on Mr Karzai's executive power.

"If parliament isn't seen as working, people will just come up with new, and probably less legitimate ways to seek power," a Kabul-based political analyst, who wished to remain anonymous, said in an interview in the capital on Thursday. "Everyone knows the internationals are getting ready to leave - this is a very crucial time and we need to cut our losses and move on."

Elections for Afghanistan's Wolesi Jirga, the lower house of the country's National Assembly, were marred from the beginning by accusations of widespread fraud and corruption by candidates, election officials and security forces.

The country's Independent Elections Commission (IEC), a watchdog group, eventually discarded 1.3 million ballots - or nearly a quarter of the total votes - and disqualified 19 winning candidates before issuing final results on November 24. More than 2,500 candidates ran for the 249 available seats, although 68 are reserved for women.

But while the United States, United Nations and other international backers recognised the IEC's final vote tally, Mr Karzai refused to publicly acknowledge the results as legitimate.

Because Taliban insurgents, who are mainly Pashtun, threatened to carry out attacks on voters, many Pashtuns, Mr Karzai's traditional power base, were intimidated into staying home on election day.

The result was a new Afghan parliament that lacked a Pashtun majority and one that Mr Karzai saw as a potential political nuisance, analysts say.

"Mr Karzai shouldn't be delaying the work of the parliament because he needs to placate this group or this faction, he should be allowing it to move forward for the sake of the entire country," the analyst said.

Losing Pashtun candidates said they intend to cash in on Mr Karzai's promises of a piece of the political pie.

"Mr Karzai said he would make Baidar Zazai the deputy speaker of parliament, even though the IEC said that he lost," said Ajmal, a campaign worker for the Pashtun candidate in the Kabul province. Mr Zazai was unavailable for comment.

Another Pashtun parliamentary candidate from the northern province of Kunduz, who wished to remain anonymous, said in a phone interview that Mr Karzai had promised him a prominent political post if his bid for parliament failed.

Not only will the infighting add to Afghanistan's instability, but may also create a political power vacuum with dangerous consequences. Once members of parliament are certified by the IEC as such, said Nader Nadery, the chairman of the Free and Fair Election Foundation, there is no constitutional provision to remove them.

By delaying parliament, Mr Karzai is entering "uncharted political territory", the Kabul-based political analyst said. It could render the Afghan parliament irrelevant and is almost certain to deepen voter resentment.

"People are already very disillusioned by elections," the analyst said. "They're asking themselves: what has this government done for us?"

"If parliament isn't allowed to open or Mr Karzai calls for new elections, I think Afghans will probably give up on the system entirely. I doubt they would even bother to vote for parliament again."

Ziar Mal, 28, a cameraman for a Afghan television station, said he grew disenchanted years ago.

"It's clear neither Mr Karzai nor the parliament are acting in the interest of the people, the people who voted for them," Mr Mal said.

"My friends and family, we say maybe we would be better if the Taliban came back. At least with the Taliban, we knew what to expect."

foreign.desk@thenational.ae