Karzai Agrees to Inaugurate New Afghan Parliament Months After Election
January 26, 2011
By: Chinyelu Odunze | Printer Friendly
Ending weeks of political infighting, President Hamid Karzai inaugurated the new Afghan parliament today despite criticism from his opposition. Karzai alleged that last September's parliamentary election to elect members of the Wolesi Jirga (the House of the People), the lower house of the bicameral National Assembly of Afghanistan, was marred by "foreign interference." A legal battle has continued ever since the ballots were cast in September 2010.
Tensions escalated last Wednesday, following Karzai’s decision to delay the opening of parliament until mid-February, five months after the country had voted. The decision caused the Afghan government to fall into crisis at a time of worsening insurgent violence.
Under the Afghan Constitution, the president is responsible for inaugurating the parliament. Arguing that the president was exceeding his legal authority in ordering this delay, lawmakers felt compelled to threaten to open parliament with or without the president.
According to the Washington Post, Karzai claims that fraud and violence stifled voter turnout in his political base of southern Afghanistan during the parliamentary elections in September 2010. Karzai appointed a special tribunal to investigate the alleged and wanted to delay the opening of parliament in order to give the special court that he appointed ample time to finish its investigation. According to the Los Angeles Times, Karzai hoped - and may still hope - to change the outcome of the September vote, in which some incumbent lawmakers considered to his allies lost their seats. Observers say that the tribunal, which is made up of his appointees is designed more to advance Karzai’s agenda than promote justice.
Due to such pressure, Karzai finally agreed to inaugurate the Afghan parliament on January 26, just three days after the original date of January 23. The announcement was made January 24, after the country’s Supreme Court approved the opening date. According to a statement released by the presidential palace, the decision was made for the “national interests of the country,” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reports.
However, according to the Washington Post, Karzai agreed only after lawmakers agreed to permit the criminal investigations to continue. As a stipulation of the agreement, Nader Khan Katawazai, a lawmaker from the southeastern province said that the investigations had to be constitutional.
According to Foreign Policy, for the first time since the September 2010 parliamentary elections, Afghanistan has three working branches of government, and Karzai – no longer ruling by decree – has a check on his power. The Los Angeles Times also reports that now that the parliament has been sworn in, it is unclear whether any lawmakers implicated of fraud in the tribunal investigation approved by the Supreme Court could be removed.
The Associated Press reports that strengthening the Afghan government is seen as key to the fight against an insurgency because a strong government would be better at taking over responsibility for security. Also, Afghans would be less likely to turn to the Taliban if they have faith in their government.
According to the New York Times, the United Nations, the United States and the European Union made a joint statement welcoming the deal that allowed the parliament to begin its session. “Afghanistan’s peaceful future lies in the building up of robust democratic institutions based on the rule of law and clear respect for the separation of powers,” it said.
For previous news on Afghanistan, please see:
Afghan Parliamentary Election Results Stoke Further Unrest
Associated Press - Afghan President Inaugurates New Parliament
BBC News - Deal over Afghan parliament stand-off 'in doubt'
Los Angeles Times - Afghan parliament sworn in despite Karzai's opposition
Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty – Karzai Sets Date to Open New Afghan Parliament
Reuters - Karzai to open Afghan parliament after standoff
Washington Post - Ending standoff, Karzai agrees to inaugurate Afghan parliament
Washington Post - Karzai opens Afghan parliament with accusations, call for unity