Parliament has decided to postpone its regular recess. It was supposed to start today, but the Parliamentarians just don’t want to go yet. They spent most of their last session discussing how they hadn’t properly started their work and how they wouldn’t be able to face their constituents if they went home. And that they would prefer to be around, in case Karzai finally introduces his candidates for the various pending positions. In reality the MPs fear that if they leave their seats they may not be able to get them back, so they have decided to stay where they are – at least for another 15 days.
The MPs hope that by asking insistently and waiting politely – while signaling their potential cooperation – they can wear Karzai down and persuade him to introduce his candidates for the pending posts: the seven ministries that are still headed by acting ministers, and possibly the Supreme Court judges, the Attorney General, the NDS director, and the head of the Red Crescent Society. They hope that the need to court their vote will firm up their position and that it might signal Karzai’s acceptance of the Parliament’s current composition (and if nothing else, it will at least bring them one round of campaigning, with all the entertaining, gift-giving and deal-making that comes with it). The Special Court investigation still hangs over the Parliament and, in true Afghan fashion, nobody really knows what will happen.
The Special Court (see earlier blogs here, here and here) announced in April that its investigations were all but finished. Since then there have been consistent rumours about lists with around 80 and possibly over 100 MPs that could lose their seats as a result of the various recounts. Several of the so-called complaining candidates have been receiving congratulatory phone calls, including from IEC and ECC staff now seeking their favour, and have held parties in celebration of their expected belated victories. The fact that the Special Court has not announced any final decisions has not deterred them; they are assuming – like many others – that the Court is waiting for the Parliamentary recess.
Karzai, in the meantime, has not given much indication of how he intends to play this. At the moment he mainly seems to be trying to keep the peace with both sides. When asked, he tells Parliament that he will introduce his candidates as soon as events allow (but he also told them that, as far as he was concerned, they did not need to wait around). During a meeting a few weeks ago he told the Parliamentary leadership that although he understood their concerns with regard to the Special Court, he could not be seen to be interfering in the affairs of the country’s judiciary, but that he would discuss the matter with the head of the Supreme Court (which he apparently hasn’t). And to the complaining candidates he seems to have been sympathetic, but ultimately non-committal. The Parliamentary leadership has asked to see Karzai again this afternoon; the complaining candidates are likely to follow suit quite soon.
The reports of irregularities found and recounts conducted have obviously raised expectations among the complaining candidates, who continue to advocate their case (although there are also contingency plans, including the establishment of a political movement). But a major rearranging of the Parliament’s composition will probably lead to a new wave of protests by the removed candidates and their backers, and to political turmoil if the changes are seen to target certain factions or groups more than others – which could well be the case.
The President seems unsure whether it will be worth the fuss, particularly since the Parliament so far has had a weak start. It has been preoccupied by the issue of the Special Court, has struggled with its quorum and has barely started its legislative work (it now meets twice a week, instead of three times, to give the committees more time to prepare laws for discussion in the plenary session). He will be pondering whether this is not a Parliament he can work with after all. And then there is the added issue that it is difficult to predict how strongly the internationals will react. And there is of course the problem of determining which changes to make or who to prosecute based on what can only be a mass of confusing and ambiguous findings.
It is a standoff – one of Afghanistan’s many – with the main protagonists milling around, watching each other wearily, trying to gauge the others plans, waiting for a chance to strike, while all the while pretending to be minding their own business. And one that could go on for quite a while longer.
This article was last updated on 9 Mar 2020