While the Law Support Coalition (LSC) was discussing whether to end its boycott of the parliament sessions, excluded MP from Herat Semin Barakzai went on a hunger strike starting on 2 October 2011, demanding that her exclusion be reviewed and overturned. On 8 October 2011 the LSC returned to the house session to announce its change in tactics, as well as its continuing determination to fight for their cause: to support the previous ratification of the house, defend the nine excluded MPs and declare the nine newly included MPs illegal. Gran Hewad reports.
After the LSC* returned to the Wolesi Jirga on Saturday, its members asked the session to invite the team of mediators, the heads of the provincial councils, into the chamber. After the speaker welcomed the LSC back to the sessions, the head of the Herat provincial council held a short speech, thanking the LSC and asking the MPs for unity. Shahzada Shahed, the speaker of the ad hoc pro-government Reformists faction, asked the MPs to respect each other, as well as the internal rules of procedure. When the turn went to Kandahar MP Shakiba Hashemi to speak on behalf of the LSC, the pro-government MPs as well as the nine newly included parliamentarians left the session.
Shakiba Hashemi described the LSC as the majority faction of the parliament that had experienced real national unity, and stated that after it had shown its power and resolve by boycotting the session, the coalition had decided to change its tactic and to continue the struggle from inside the house, where it intends to support the nine excluded MPs and to consider the IEC decision that instated nine new MPs as against the law. The last point, which was repeated twice by Hashemi, was followed by applause and then the end of the session.
The return of the LSC to the chamber can pose some problems to the government loyalists, at least in the short term. They can pressure the loyalist faction by consistently marginalising and treating the nine new MPs as illegitimate. This in turn can be as a tool to pressure government to pay serious attention to them in order to end the tension that was created by excluding nine MPs. The question, however, is what the long-term fate of the LSC will be.
In the meantime Semin Barakzai’s hunger strike is entering the eighth day. She has been living under a tent on Shura street, close to the parliament, in a bed for the last week. Not eating, she can no longer speak and is experiencing the worst health (when AAN wanted to talk to her today, she shook her head to indicate that she cannot speak). The Minister of Public Health told the media that ‘her vital health indicators are shaky’. Semin Barakzai’s assistant told AAN that she wants her case to be reviewed and compared to Rahima Jami, the female MP whose inclusion by the IEC had cost Semin her seat, taking into account all documents and evidence as individuals – as should be done with the other eight MPs.
Senior officials – including, the second vice president, the national security advisor and the minister of public health –, women rights activists, MPs and journalists are visiting her on a daily basis. The speaker of the house had promised her that they would discuss the issue session and find a solution by noon on 9 October 2011, which did not happen. The ministry of parliamentary affairs then refreshed the promise and said that the issue would be discussed in a meeting at five in the palace. The leadership committee, formed by the chairmen of the 18 parliamentary committees, drafted a proposal to be discussed during the meeting, asking the president to intervene and to review the 18 cases of the excluded and included MPs. A delegation of five MPs and the speaker were scheduled to attend the meeting.
The speaker seems to be seriously trying to end the tension, as he would like to show himself as an effective leader of a controversial parliament. He is, moreover, afraid of facing a no-confidence vote, given that the angry LSC and other MPs are already complaining that he is ineffective. It will however take the vote of two-thirds of the parliament to make this happen. However, if he does get voted off, this threatens to reopen the fierce competition that paralysed the parliament for months earlier this year.
The priority for the MPs at the moment seems to solve Semin’s case and to persuade her to end her hunger strike. One possibility that was mentioned is to add a seat to the house – this would be within the bounds of the constitution, given that the article 83 states that ‘the number of the members of the house shall not exceed the maximum of 250 individuals.’ Another suggested solution, which would cover all nine excluded MPs, is that president would intervene and invite all 18 MPs involved (both the excluded and the included) and suggest them nine government positions, so that they can choose among themselves who wants to take what.
These suggestions indicate that in the eyes of many MPs the composition of the parliament is not yet final. The LSC will try to use this to keep up the pressure and to compel the government to compromise and to rehabilitate the excluded MPs.
* More information about this group in our earlier blog here.
This article was last updated on 9 Mar 2020