Karzai and MPs in talks to stave off parliament chaos
KABUL (Reuters) – Defiant Afghan lawmakers met President Hamid Karzai Saturday for last minute talks to stave off a showdown over when to open parliament that has brought political turmoil and fears of street violence to Kabul.
Lawmakers, who have denounced that decision and the tribunal as illegal, say the country has gone long enough without a parliament and plan to meet for an opening Sunday as originally scheduled, regardless of Karzai’s stance.
“We will never accept any change or delay to the exact date,” said MP Hafeez Mansoor, adding he expected nearly 200 of the 249 lawmakers who sit in the lower house to turn up.
The police and army have promised not to block off parliament when lawmakers arrive, said Ahmad Behzad, a representative from the western city of Herat.
“Security officials have assured us that they are not planning to create obstacles in our way to the parliament.”
The ministry of defense and the ministry of interior, which commands the police, could not be reached to confirm their plans, but if true it would be a strong signal that Karzai’s decision to back a delay has won limited support from his cabinet.
Much of the international community Friday also condemned the delay in a joint statement from the United Nations, the United States, Europe and Canada that expressed “deep concern.” It was intended as a signal that donors supporting Karzai with cash and troops are serious about standing up for democratic principles, said one Western official who helped draft it.
But failed candidates for the assembly — who claim they were cheated out of seats and so support the court’s call for extra investigations — have promised they will form a blockade around the parliament building, raising fears of violence.
“I am sure that the Afghan security institutions will not allow any illegitimate opening of the parliament, but we are ready in full force,” said Daoud Sultanzoy, a former MP from Ghazni province southwest of Kabul, who lost his seat.
Karzai set up the special tribunal that put the breaks on parliament, issuing a presidential decree after protests by losing candidates angry at corruption and winners frustrated that they still had not taken their seats.
But critics say it is designed to serve his political agenda rather than the interests of justice, and raises wider questions about his respect for the rule of law.
“Unfortunately we see that the institutions of the country which are supposed to be independent, like the judiciary, are acting in line with demands from the executive,” said Abdullah Abdullah, Karzai’s main rival in the last presidential election and now head of an opposition coalition.
“Establishing a special court gives the president a free hand in coming years to establish a special court on any issue, and that court can act in accordance with his wishes and demands.”
Karzai is believed to be unhappy about the poll results, which have left the assembly with a larger, more vocal and coherent opposition bloc than the previous assembly.
Even before the latest delay, Karzai chose an inauguration day almost two months after the final results were released on December 1, and then scheduled a trip to Russia over the planned day — forcing it to be pushed back slightly to January 23.
The fraud-riddled poll and months of political infighting over the results have raised questions about the credibility of Karzai and his government among his foreign backers.
Some Kabul-based diplomats were considering attending Sunday’s unofficial inauguration, and had wanted the joint statement to call for the official opening to go ahead.
There are fears further delay will fuel political unrest and instability at a time when violence is at its worst since the 2001 overthrow of the Taliban government by U.S.-backed forces.