Afghan parliament deal still tentative

KABUL, Afghanistan - A deal between Afghan President Hamid Karzai and winning parliamentary candidates to start the legislative session this week appeared at risk of unraveling Sunday as back-room negotiations continued on how to investigate electoral fraud.

By (AP)

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Published: Sun 23 Jan 2011, 8:58 PM

Last updated: Tue 7 Apr 2015, 9:05 AM

The debate has threatened to cause a constitutional crisis in a country where the government is already struggling to establish functioning services and take on more responsibility for security in volatile, insurgent-run regions.

Afghanistan’s parliament has been in limbo for months — first because of fraud investigations by an official watchdog panel and more recently because of a second round of investigations by a Karzai-backed tribunal that election officials reject as illegal.

The 249-member chamber was originally scheduled to start work Sunday, but Karzai announced a one-month delay last week to give the tribunal time to finish its probe. Winning candidates threatened to start the session without Karzai’s approval, prompting a last-minute deal Saturday night.

Lawmakers came out of the discussions saying they had agreed to a Wednesday start — just three days late — on the condition that criminal probes into electoral fraud could continue. They said then that all that was left was to send a formal letter to the president’s office and for everyone to sign off on the deal.

The parliamentarians did send a letter Sunday, but with another condition — that the tribunal be abolished and criminal cases be handled by the regular courts, said Mirwais Yasini, a representative from eastern Nangarhar province who was re-elected in the September ballot.

Karzai responded by sending his parliamentary minister to discuss the issue with parliamentarians and they were locked up in talks at a Kabul hotel for a second day Sunday. By late afternoon an agreement still had not been reached, Yasini said. The president’s office could not be reached for comment.

There are 59 winning candidates among the cases the court is investigating, according to Sadiqullah Haqiq, the head of the five-judge tribunal. That means the judges’ decisions could significantly alter the makeup of parliament. And Haqiq has insisted that the tribunal has the authority both to call for a re-vote or even to nullify the entire election.

Both election officials and the international community have said the tribunal has no authority — noting that Afghan law gives sole authority for disqualifying candidates or ballots to one group — the Electoral Complaints Commission. This commission threw out 1.3 million ballots — nearly a quarter of the total — and disqualified 19 winning candidates before final results were issued on Nov. 24.

Even if the sticking point is resolved, investigations could still wreak havoc on the parliament as it begins work this week. Whichever court takes on the investigations, a conviction of any candidate for fraud could still provide a basis for taking away his or her seat. The Afghan constitution says that no one who has been convicted of a crime can run for parliament.

While Karzai has regularly steamrolled over parliament by issuing orders by decree, the body is still the main check on the president’s power and an important voice of dissent. The Supreme Court is nominated by Karzai and is generally seen as beholden to him.

Losing candidates were also unhappy, as many of them had hoped the one-month delay would give them a better chance of making their case that they were wronged. About 200 people gathered outside a Kabul mosque Sunday to protest Karzai’s decision to inaugurate the newly elected parliament this week rather than waiting a month for ongoing election fraud investigations.

The protesters crowded around losing candidate Najibullah Mujahid of Kabul province, who shouted through a megaphone that the president had caved to outside pressure.

“This is an illegal parliament! This parliament should not be inaugurated!” Mujahid said. His supporters said that thousands of votes that had been cast for him had never appeared in the tally.

As the political turmoil continues, so does violence countrywide.

Two Afghan children were killed Sunday when they were caught up in a firefight between insurgents and allied NATO-Afghan forces in the east, NATO said in a statement, which maintained that it was insurgent gunfire that killed them.

In the south, a police officer was killed by a roadside bomb in Helmand province on Saturday, the government said.

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