Uncertainty lingers over Afghan parliament

January 24, 2011 12:00 am

, KABUL, Jan 24 – A constitutional stand-off in Afghanistan between President Hamid Karzai and lawmakers that has delayed the opening of parliament was dragging on Monday, threatening a fresh crisis.

The two sides are arguing over the legality of a Supreme Court special tribunal, which is charged with ruling on cases of electoral fraud during parliamentary polls four months ago.

Karzai wants MPs (members of parliament) to accept its authority as a condition for his inaugurating the new parliament on Wednesday. But the MPs fear it will throw some of their number out and insist it is unlawful.

Lawmakers claimed Saturday that an agreement had been struck between the two sides, which would see Karzai open parliament on Wednesday, following pressure from the United States and United Nations.

But further tensions emerged as lawmakers held talks on the details of the deal Sunday, which seemed to put the agreement in jeopardy.

 The situation is being watched anxiously by the international community in Afghanistan.

International troops fighting the Taliban are due to start limited withdrawals in July ahead of Afghan forces assuming control of security in 2014.

The MPs now say they have made their final offer to Karzai and are awaiting his response.

"We are not meeting with the president today, we have sent him our last decision yesterday which is not changeable for us," Mohammad Sarwar Usmani, who is acting as the temporary speaker of the new parliament, told AFP.

"We believe and are sure the president will come and inaugurate the parliament on Wednesday."

Usmani added that the lawmakers wanted electoral fraud cases to be handled by the regular Afghan courts, not the special tribunal. MPs have parliamentary immunity in the court system but not in the tribunal.

 However, an official source, speaking anonymously as he was not authorised to talk to media, told AFP Sunday that Karzai was unlikely to open parliament Wednesday if the lawmakers did not pledge to respect the tribunal.

"What\’s being said about the opening of the parliament on Wednesday, that\’s conditional," said the source, who was involved in the recent talks.

Asked whether Karzai will open parliament as arranged if MPs fail to accept the tribunal, the source added: "I don\’t think so."

Karzai\’s office has declined to comment on the situation since announcing last Wednesday that the inauguration, originally scheduled for Sunday, was being delayed for a month.

Lawmakers said Karzai\’s U-turn on that decision came after talks with them Saturday.

In a statement on Friday, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan expressed "deep concern and surprise" at Karzai\’s call to delay inaugurating the parliament and, along with Washington, urged a swift resolution to the impasse.

September\’s elections to Afghanistan\’s Wolesi Jirga — the lower house of parliament — were hit by massive fraud.

Around a quarter of the five million votes cast were thrown out and 24 early winners disqualified.


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