/ 13 December 2010

Afghan MPs demand president form new Parliament

A group of about 100 Afghan members of Parliament demanded on Monday that President Hamid Karzai inaugurate the assembly by December 19, almost three weeks after final results of a fraud-marred election were declared.

Afghanistan’s political crisis has been simmering since the September 18 ballot, with tension rising on reports that the attorney general’s office had asked for the vote to be annulled.

The troubles present a worrying message for United States President Barack Obama, who will not want to see any further signs of instability as he completes a review of his Afghanistan war strategy this week.

Consistent allegations of vote fraud in the September polls, as well as in a presidential election last year, have raised questions about the credibility of Karzai and his government as a partner at a time when US and Nato leaders are assessing their long-term commitment to Afghanistan.

Final general election results from the country’s 34 provinces were released on December 1. Poll officials had said late in November that a new Parliament could be formed within a week but there has been no attempt to convene the assembly.

About 100 MPs, calling themselves The Administrative Board of the Parliament, issued a three-point declaration after gathering at Parliament to discuss their next move.

“We call on the president to inaugurate Parliament,” the group said in a declaration given to Reuters by Fawzia Kufi, an outspoken member of Parliament from the north-eastern province of Badakhshan.

She earlier said Karzai “cannot delay this any more” and echoed several other successful candidates in saying that the attorney general’s office did not have the authority to call for the election result to be annulled.

“The palace is behind this. Karzai is not happy with the results,” Kufi said.

Karzai has been critical of the poll, which is likely to have produced a Parliament with a larger, more vocal and coherent opposition than the previous chamber.

‘Considerable fraud’
Candidates stood as individuals, not as members of parties, and the Parliament, like the previous one, is a diverse mixture of representatives of ethnic groups and various political forces as well as independents.

There will likely be larger groups of ethnic Tajiks and Hazaras who may challenge Karzai’s traditional power base among Pashtuns, Afghanistan’s largest ethnic group.

However, Afghan Parliaments do not have a history of organised opposition and members tend to vote along tribal and ethnic lines, or according to personal positions on issues.

Attorney General Ishaq Aloko, who was appointed by Karzai, has not been available for comment since Afghan television reported late on Saturday that his office had asked the Supreme Court to cancel the election results.

Hafizullah Hafiz, the head of the complaints section in the attorney general’s office, said a letter had been sent to the court asking it to scrap the results and order a recount.

The legality of such a move was in doubt, analysts said.

The parliamentarians’ declaration also said neither the Supreme Court nor the attorney general’s office had any authority “to interfere in the election process”.

Supreme Court spokesperson Abdul Wakil Omari said candidates could refer individual complaints to the court but was vague when asked whether it had the authority to cancel the whole election.

The court had not received anything from the attorney general’s office, he said.

The UN mission in Afghanistan has congratulated election officials for conducting a vote in the middle of an insurgency, but has also noted “considerable fraud” took place.

It also said on December 1 it looked forward to the “prompt” inauguration of the 249-seat wolesi jirga, or lower house, “as an important further step in Afghanistan’s strengthening of its democratic governance”.

Dozens of candidates and election officials are being investigated and the Independent Election Commission has thrown out about a quarter of the 5,6-million votes cast as fake.

Candidates and supporters, angry over the long delays, have been protesting since last month, calling for the result to be scrapped. Some say failure to address grievances would push Afghans towards an insurgency at its worst since the Taliban were ousted in 2001. – Reuters