In The News

Afghanistan’s Parliament Convenes, but Divide Between Winners and Losers Deepens

January 26, 2011

Yesterday, Afghanistan’s National Assembly (parliament) convened amid controversy and relief that a constitutional crisis had been averted. The day before the inauguration, a number of election candidates spent the night at the Presidential Palace to protest President Karzai’s decision to open the parliament. On Friday, President Karzai alarmed Afghans and the international community here when he threatened to postpone the planned National Assembly inauguration from January 23 to February 22 to enable a special Karzai-appointed court to investigate allegations of election fraud in the September 18 parliament elections.

Almost immediately, the winning candidates threatened to ignore Karzai’s delay and attend the inauguration on the set date as planned. Under intense pressure from the UN and the international community, Karzai called negotiations with almost all the 249 candidates on Saturday. By the end of the day, a 35-member committee made up of one candidate from each province and the chief justice set a new date for parliament’s inauguration on Wednesday, January 26.

Concerns over the legitimacy of Karzai’s special court emerged as a divisive issue that the winning candidates strongly pushed Karzai to give up. Karzai, on the other hand, pushed back, insisting that he would hold the investigation, even if he gave up his special court in lieu of the Supreme Court. Finally, a compromise was reached, and parties agreed that the Supreme Court would conduct the investigation instead. Late Wednesday, the president sought the views of the Supreme Court on the inauguration of the parliament, but the Court said that the issue is between the government and the parliament to work out. Although we witnessed a rare moment of compromise, a lasting divide exists between the winning and losing candidates of the parliamentary elections.

The two sides – the winning candidates who pushed for the parliament’s inauguration and the losing candidates who are anxiously awaiting the verdict from the investigation – are pursuing two very different agendas. And, both parties are pushing their agendas as “constitutional.” The winning candidates see the work of the Independent Election Commission (IEC) and the Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) as final, with no other institution authorized to interfere in the election results.

Through this, the Constitutional Oversight Commission simply appealed to end the confrontation rather than come up with any specific proposals for a solution. The Head of the Commission issued a statement on Wednesday that the inauguration of the parliament is constitutional and the president is abiding by the constitution.

Certainly, this confrontation doesn’t help to ease existing conflicts and disagreements over the election results. Looking to the future, the Ministry of Information Technology just launched an electronic ID card project that will help avoid allegations of fraud in future elections. It is also important that the government conduct an assessment of the fallout this week between the executive and judiciary branches to avoid delay – and deepening distrust – in the future.

Fazel Rabi Haqbeen is The Asia Foundation’s program planning & development director in Kabul. He can be reached at fhaqbeen@asiafound.org.

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