Afghanistan Analysts Network – English

Political Landscape

High Hurdles Race to the Afghan Parliament (updated)

Fabrizio Foschini 7 min

As expected, President Karzai’s announcement of 5-to-12 to delay the Parliament’s inauguration for one month has opened a tough political match. For the last three days, the winning candidates have kept meeting every morning at the Intercontinental hotel. The majority remained committed to proceed with the inauguration on Sunday as well as with their rejection of the Special (Elections) Court. In the President’s absence, delegates of the would-be MPs met his deputies as well as UN, EU and US representatives; the latter criticised the planned delay in a joint statement issued on Friday evening. And the meeting of meetings has just ended at the Palace to which more than 200 MPs were called by Karzai. The most interesting turn, perhaps, is that of the UN which had until now striven to avoid being involved in the electoral row. AAN’s Fabrizio Foschini reviews the events of these last, hectic days – until their last (but maybe not final) reported twist (with contributions by Thomas Ruttig).

Early comments on Wednesday night, to the effect that the MPs would not accept the postponement of the Parliament’s inauguration announced by Karzai, proved to be true. The would-be MPs gathered at the Intercontinental hotel in a self-organized follow-up to the orientation week workshop, and what was planned as a sort of technical rehearsal suddenly became much more realistic because of the turn of events. The participants’s organization in fact resembled in many ways that of their future tenure as the Lower House of the Parliament, if they ever manage to attain it.

Under the direction of the oldest MP, Sarwar Osmani Farahi, who according to the parliament’s rules acts as temporary speaker of the Lower House, and the two youngest, Nahid Ahmadi-Farid and Massud Nurzai, as temporary first and second secretary respectively, the MPs formed committees to deal with issues like public outreach, relations with foreigners, technical issues and security.

Indeed, on Thursday morning, a confrontational mood was brewing at the Interconti. Most of the orators were in support of the idea of opening the Parliament with or without the President’s attendance. They argued that the loss of one of the three pillars of Afghanistan’s democratic system and what some see as the slide of the country towards dictatorship needed to be prevented. One MP proposed that, after entering the Parliament, they should in fact occupy it and refuse to leave the building until the inauguration was officially acknowledged. President Karzai was even compared to Pakistan’s ex-dictator Musharraf by one of those present.

Many MPs rejected responsibility for the current impasse as, in the words of Fawzia Kufi, ‘the problem is not a legal but a political one. … The responsibility of this crisis does not fall on the electoral commissions or on us, the winning candidates, who have just been following a legal procedure, but rather on the President, who has been instrumental in creating the Special Court.’

Of course there were also more moderate positions. A ‘current’ represented mainly by Kabul deputy Sayyid Alemi Balkhi, a Shia alem who already was member of the old parliament and had often criticised the government but from a very legalistic position, questioned the validity and effectiveness of a Parliament inaugurated without the presence of the highest state institutions and presidential approval.

Among the few dissenting voices was Shukria Barakzai’s, a female MP whose position in the old parliament had fluctuated between sharp opposition to and support for the President. On Thursday, she left the assembly after a few minutes after showing her dissent with the majority. She was back at today’s meeting, but maintained her opposition to any action that could lead to a confrontation with the President.

Notwithstanding early rumours to the contrary, the invitation to meet the President at the Palace on Saturday afternoon was quickly accepted by the MPs. At the Intercontinental meeting this morning (Saturday), calls for unity and to keep up the determination to inaugurate the Wolesi Jirga tomorrow – ‘and if the President is tired from his trip, he can join one day after, or even next week’ said someone – were contrasted with more soothing remarks on the necessity to avoid strife. The MPs’ view of the conflict from days before was reversed for today’s meeting in the Palace: it was recommended to use legal reasoning only and to avoid any political argument. There were also some who openly advocated to eventually accept further investigations of electoral fraud by the judiciary. The same attitude was shown by Mohaqqeq at a meeting that was simultaneously held with international stakeholders, even though he had earlier positioned himself as one of the strongest voices of opposition. Other members of his delegation were however not happy with his remark. Yunos Qanuni even expressed the wish that tomorrow’s inauguration would become a happy event, a ‘national celebration’.

Indeed, however strongly denied when asked directly, a streak of cautiousness and conciliatory spirit seems to have grown among the participants. Possibly, three full days of mobilization and some of the events that occurred in this lapse of time account for a more reflexive attitude and some tiredness.

One of the major strategies endorsed by the ‘Intercontinental’ assembly, namely to reach out to the United Nations and other foreign actors and to secure their presence at the inauguration, has until now worked out. After a meeting with a delegation of MPs including Qanuni, Yassini, Haji Zaher and Mohaqqeq on Thursday afternoon, and a further extraordinary meeting yesterday, the UN released a statement late on Friday (together with EU, US and Canada – link here), expressing ‘deep concern and surprise’ at the President’s decision to delay the inauguration. Although it seems that an initially sharper phrasing of the communiqué was softened after the President’s chief of staff Omar Daudzai contacted several embassies, the message still unmistakably backs the MPs’ decision to reject the postponing of the inauguration(*).

This display of irritation on the part of key international actors at the government’s inconsistancy regarding the inauguration date put Karzai in a difficult situation. Meanwhile, he decided to return early from his Moscow trip in order to meet the MPs again. In his absence, Qanuni had a meeting with the vice-presidents Muhammad Qasem Fahim and Abdul Karim Khalili who reportedly took a favourable attitude towards the MPs’ position in private and denied their intention to take part in the inauguration in public.

It can be assumed that, as of late, the presidential office has approached some of the winning candidates, especially those considered to be closer to it. Interestingly enough, no ethnic or regional cleavages could be detected in the MPs’ Interconti assembly, with prominent MPs both from the opposition and from the pro-President camp present and vocal; the attendance has not dwindled from an average of 210 to 215 MPs every day. Apart from a few MPs who called in ill or travelled abroad, only a handful of known names were missing, first and foremost Abdul Rasul Sayyaf. The wannabe Wolesi Jirga speaker is apparently trying not to lose the President’s support by being too closely associating with the protesters but is nevertheless trying to play a key role amongst them as well. He was actually reported to be in a room of the hotel, staying in communication with the other MPs(**).

Thus, with a somewhat strong position and almost unanimous purpose, the MPs headed to the Palace around 12.30 today. After long hours spent inside the Palace, no clear outcome was still heard of. According to first reports around 17.30, the majority of MPs had left the place and only one representative per province was remaining inside together with Qanuni (early reports about the presence of Sayyaf, of representatives from the two electoral commissions – IEC and ECC – and of several judiciary organs were dismissed on Sunday morning(***). Apparently, no agreement or compromise was possible: the President took a strong stance refusing the MPs’ request to allow the inauguration to proceed tomorrow, while the MPs stood firm in their decision to do exactly this.

However, later in the evening there were indications that a compromise solution had been crafted. The MPs seem to have accepted to delay the inauguration of the Parliament until Wednesday, along with further investigations of some cases of electoral fraud, as long as it was not done by the Special Court, the legality of which they continue to reject. Reportedly, the international community had not yet decided whether to attend the inauguration or not but had offered to mediate.

So, although we are not likely to witness a direct, ‘physical’ confrontation taking place tomorrow morning, the rather unexpected firm position of a large majority of MPs has challenged a few assumptions, for example that the new parliament will be much weaker than the last one. The President has been shown that he cannot treat the parliament like an unwanted sideshow to his executive apparatus and expect that its members swallow their grievances. This is a re-enactment of what happened in the first session of the 2005 Wolesi Jirga when it elected Qanuni the speaker and not the President’s then favourite, Sayyaf. Personal ambition and the lack of party or factional discipline keep the arena quite open. One of the most interesting turns, perhaps, is that of the UN which until recently had gone the extra mile not to be involved (at least publicly) in the elections beyond technical issues and not to criticise the President.

But exactly that unexpectedness of events should not lead us to draw too far-reaching conclusions. It does not tell us yet where the new Wolesi Jirga is marching to. Although matters of honour and saving face were by now involved on both sides, the opportunity of an eleventh-hour compromise achieved through backdoor deals to spare the opposing parties a long-term confrontation – and to provide those politicians who are seen as arranging or being key in agreeing to a compromise with a few boni – seem to have been caught. Let’s be content with that: for the political stability of a country it is never good to enter a new phase with a constitutional crisis or antagonized executive-legislative relations.

Update of 23.01.2011:

On Sunday morning the assembly at the Intercontinental discussed the main issue of the Special Court, which apparently had not been clearly defined in the previous night’s agreement. The MPs seem to be divided on the issue: while some argue that a for a clarification it should be clearly stated that they ask for the dissolution of the Special Court, others would prefer not to mention the latter and just declare they accept further investigation regarding criminal offences during the elections by the Supreme Court. (The latter is the position Karzai pushes for.) Others are arguing that for criminal offences there is no need to involve the Supreme Court, as they can be dealt with by normal courts. The Supreme Court is also seen as the main obstacle on the road to the dissolution of the Special Court, something that Karzai had apparently accepted.

Many MPs, as expressed by Abdul Latif Pedram during the meeting, fear that this delay is serving the government purpose to buy time and sow divisions among the parliamentarians. Several of them said they would not bet on the inauguration taking place on Wednesday.


(*) The Palace’s main aim seems to have been to avoid any critical statement by the international community to allow it more space to manoeuvre for a compromise with the MPs.

(**) On Ustad Sayyaf’s reason for not joining the Intercontinental meetings wholeheartedly, AAN has heard different reports. According to some sources, even the postponement of the inauguration on part of Karzai was meant to favour Sayyaf’s candidacy for the speaker position. Other sources maintain that Karzai’s support for Sayyaf is not genuine and that he is actually looking into other directions to fill this post.

(***) A recent report by Tolonews (link here) said that the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) has accused through a letter some ‘circles within the Afghan Government, including some military officials’ of irregularities on Election Day. At the same time the IEC urged the Constitutional Implementation Commission to study the Attorney General and Supreme Court intervention in electoral issues. This adds a new chapter to the war of reciprocal accusations, which has been raging between these bodies since the release of the elections results.


Democratization Government


Fabrizio Foschini

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