Afghan parliament stumbles, faces tough future

The failure of the newly elected Afghan Wolesi jirga – national assembly – to elect speaker of the house in more than six rounds of voting heralds to the deep rooted troubles lying ahead for the government and parliament itself.
The worst political stalemate started on February 28 when the first formal session of the parliament was convened to elect Speaker of the House after four months of nationwide elections on September 18 last year.
The over assertive postures adopted by each ethnic group for grabbing more power and influence in the new parliament have led to failure of more than 20 candidates, who so far participated in contests for speakership in different rounds of voting.
Right from its election to the formal inauguration, the current Wolesi Jirga has surmounted multiple challenges ranging from election delays, frauds, riggings and denial of voting opportunities in south and south-east of the country to the disqualifications of winning candidates by the Independent Election Commission of Afghanistan.
So far some of the big names including head of Itihadi Islami Ustad Abdul Rab Rasul Sayyaf, former speaker and education minister Yunus Qanooni, ex-presidential candidate Mirwais Yaseeni and Haji Zahir Qadeer and several others failed to muster support of the mandatory 50 plus one (51%) of those present in the house of the total 249 members assembly.
Interestingly, in each round voting for speaker, a good number of members either become absent mischievously or stuffed the box with empty ballot papers, which the Afghan called spinney ra’iy (white votes).
In the first round on January 28, in a contest between Rasool Sayyaf and Yunus Qanooni, a total of 27 MPs votes were polled blank. The number of these blank votes by MPs reached to a staggering 92 in the third round of voting, representing then close to 40 per cent of the votes of the 240 present MPs’ in the speaker election.
Since January 28, in all six rounds of voting, so far, Ustad Rasool Sayaf remained the highest votes’ getter, grabbing 119- three votes short of the required number of 122 in the house of 240 present. Sayaf is closely followed by the out going speaker Yunus Qanooni with 116 votes.
Rasool Sayaf, who has the backing of Karzai administration, is a veteran of Afghan jihad and was the first jihadi commander who invited Osama bin Laden to Afghanistan when the Al Qaeda chief was expelled from Sudan in 1996 following mounting American pressure.
To resolve the prevailing political stalemate, the Karzai government floated an idea of changing the procedure with consensus and electing speaker on majority votes instead of the mandatory 51% of the present members of the house.
However, smelling a rate a large numbers of parliamentarians rejected this proposal and preferred elections according to rules and procedures laid down in the constitution.
Political observers believed that by sticking to rules and procedures, lawmakers succeeded in thwarting the government move of paving the way for elections of Ustad Rasul Sayyaf as speaker of the house, who is the highest voter getter with 119 so far.
President Hamid Karzai has already doubted his intention in the eyes of lawmakers when he reluctantly administered oath to the new parliamentarians on January 26 after intervention from the country’s Supreme Court and pressure from the international community.
In his inaugural address to the new parliament, Karzai severely criticized the international community for meddling in Afghanistan’s elections affairs and pressing him (Karzai) for inauguration of the parliament.
Confirmed reports also suggested that prior agreeing to swear in the new parliament, President Hamid Karzai has taken undertakings from each of the elected members that he/she will leave respective positions in case of disqualification by the Special Election Tribunal.
The Special Election Tribunal, constituted by President Karzai in December last year, is already ceased with hundreds of cases of allegations of fraud and riggings in September 18 elections. Final decision by the Election Tribunal on frauds allegations is expected in two weeks times.
Interestingly, majority of the lawmakers have challenged the role of the Special Election Tribunal accusing Karzai administration of influencing election results. They see the tribunal as illegal believing that Independent Election Commission is the only constitutional forum to investigate electoral frauds and irregularities.
Right from the beginning, the going is seemed to be very tough for the current parliament. This situation is providing enough fodder for those demanding dissolution of parliament on grounds of massive frauds and riggings.
President Karzai already resisted a lot of pressure from his fellow ethnic Pashtoons demanding declaration of elections as null and void before swearing in the parliament.
Ethnic Pashtoons believe majority of the areas in south and south east where Pashtoons are in majority remained uncontested due to bad security situation and Taliban threats.
The Pashtoons are further angered when a number of successful Pashtoons candidates were disqualified by the UN-backed Election Complaints Commission on technical grounds and election frauds. A total of 1.3 million votes were scrapped as invalid leading to disqualification of 24 early winners.
Ghazni; where out of total 18 districts 12 are predominantly Pashtoons districts, is sighted as a glaring example where in Independent Election Commission declared 11 ethnic Hazaras as winners disqualifying Pashtoons candidates on technical grounds. This situation drastically reduced numbers of Pashtoon MPs to 95 from 112 in the preceding parliament.
Several Afghan commentators believed Pashtoons lack of interests in Wolesi Jirga is the fundamental cause for the current political stalemate and it is going to obstruct parliament functions particularly in matters related to constitutional issues.
The fissures in parliament will become more conspicuous once the government presents names of new cabinet members for confirmation. President Karzai is going to put forward some 13 ministers for confirmation once the parliament is completed.
Likewise, several vacancies of senior judiciary are also lying vacant and fresh names will be presented to the parliament for confirmation. It is mandatory for the government to seek parliamentary confirmation for appointment of ministers and judges for the senior judiciary.

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