Yesterday, at the beginning of the first parliamentary session after Eid holidays, the Wolesi Jirga shut its doors to the nine MPs who had been excluded by the Independent Electoral Commission, and part of it welcomed the nine newly declared winners instead. At the same time, part of the MPs protested (outside the Parliament) against the decision and tried to smuggle in their excluded colleagues. The sum of the two sides will not account for many MPs who were simply absent, and the outcome of the equation is that the value of the Wolesi Jirga as a whole is still endangered, AAN’s Fabrizio Foschini and Gran Hewad report .
A group of MPs try to force their way into the Parliament, carefully obstructed by cordons of policemen. They march, they shout, they deliver inflammatory speeches by turns. They calm down in front of the increasing police build-up, they go back from were they started and sit down, some engage in an assembly, some squat in a courtyard, eat, smoke, comment. Slowly slowly they go home.
Somebody says history repeats itself, and when it is not in tragedy, then it is in form of farce. Yesterday’s events outside the Parliament suddenly reminded AAN there of cold days in January, when would-be MPs occupied the rooms of the Intercontinental Hotel, waiting to know if they would be allowed to occupy the Wolesi Jirga seats they had gained – at least they thought so then – in the September 18 election.
Now like then something stood in their way, now like then many would identify that something with the President’s will to interfere in the Parliament’s affairs. Now, however, the frantic but full-of-expectations atmosphere of those days seems far away. At that time, the MPs made it through, eventually, only to be confronted with the enervating threat of a Special Tribunal in the following months. And in the seemingly never-ending process that kept them busy for the best part of their tenure as MPs so far, they lost that pristine unity and enthusiasm, which had probably been only a winter mirage.
The apparent result is that after ten months of bargaining amongst the government (in the sense of the executive and the judiciary) and the electoral body on who should be the Afghan people’s representatives, nine MPs who had been elected according to the final results released on 24 November 2010 by the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) got excluded through a decision formalized by the same IEC on last 21 August (see our previous blogs here; here and here). In their place, the Parliament speaker introduced yesterday nine of the candidates who had been protesting since soon after the election.
Eight out of these nine new MPs actually came to the Wolesi Jirga early on Saturday morning with the certificates issued from the IEC, and were welcomed there by no more than forty of their future colleagues(*). These were mainly the members of the Islah-Talab group (the ‘Reform-seekers’, more commonly though somewhat misleadingly referred to as ‘Reformers’). This group had already showed clear intentions of welcoming the changes announced by the IEC during the last session of the Wolesi Jirga before the Eid holydays, on 27 August. Their ‘coming out’ in favor of the damning decision broke an apparent taboo of resiliency against any possibility of accepting changes in the WJ composition(**). It actually threatened to break more than that. Immediately after Mawlawi Shahzada Shahed, the Kunar MP designated as spokesperson for the Reformers on the occasion, had read their statement, the Herati lady and MP to-be-excluded Simin Barakzai threw a veil over him, mockingly calling him a woman. The brawl that followed will probably not make it into the pages of history, but it showed how far the tensions inside the WJ had gone, and it succeeded in suspending that day’s session.
Then, during the Eid holidays, something must have happened. Yesterday, not only the Reformers, but the Speaker of the WJ Abdul Rauf Ibrahimi and his first deputy Khalid Pashtun performed the inauguration of the new MPs – the latter in particular had been a staunch critic of the Electoral Tribunal’s proceedings in the past months. These developments took many by surprise, but a number of persons seemed to have been aware of what was about to go on, and prudently did not show up in neither camp. However when the MPs of the group opposing the changes, the so-called Coalition for Support of the Law (Ittilaf-e Hemayat az Qanun), realized what had happened, it was already too late. The newcomers were inside, and hundreds (at least they seemed quite a lot to AAN, and ‘hundreds’ has been reported by other observers too) of police garrisoned the whole Parliament building. And, of course, the nine excluded MPs were not allowed in anymore by the Parliament guards.
The Law Supporters headed then to the office their coalition rented nearby, still inside the Parliament area. From there, they started their brief protest march shortly after 10.30, being blocked by a cordon of policemen when approaching one of the outer gates of the Parliament compound. If the number of protesting MPs was not insignificant – maybe 60 including eight of the nine excluded – the deployment of security forces was definitely incongruous. The usual armoured vehicles stationed around the Parliament had been joined by a ridiculous amount of armed personnel, including machine gun nests on the roof of the nearby mosque and snipers – some of them in civilian clothes – on the adjoining buildings.
Partly because of that, the protesters’ most recurrent cry of ‘Coup d’état!’ did get some sense of reality and urgency. However, luckily enough, some elements prevented the situation from becoming too tense. The first line of guards barring the way were the policemen usually employed in the surroundings of the Parliament, who interact with the MPs everyday, and who clearly refrained from being too harsh with them. The MPs also showed the will to avoid any unnecessary confrontation. The most fiery speakers – Haji Zaher, Ahmad Behzad, and some of the excluded ones – gave speeches asking for the restoration of the original MPs and the respect of the law, labelling the introduction of the new MPs by the Parliament speaker as ‘national treason’(***). But in the end, it seemed that there was a previous agreement among the Law Supporters to stop short of trying to cross the police lines, as some women MPs reminded Latif Pedram when he suggested making a serious push.
He was probably only half-serious, as half-hearted the whole attempt did look. Also, a lot of known faces were missing. Undoubtedly, the Eid holidays took their toll on the attendance of MPs (from both sides), but some absences among the protesters were remarkable, and gave rise to speculations among the presents about the amount of money (allegedly, of course, from the government) those formerly resilient MPs may have received to make sure they did not show up at the crucial moment.
Another object of the protesting MPs’ wrath was the UN. After UNAMA released a press statement on 23 August welcoming the fact that the final decision had been put again in the hands of the IEC (read it here), members of the Coalition for the Support of the Law did not hesitate to ask for the immediate expulsion from the country of Special Representative Staffan De Mistura (who, by the way, is actually out of the country at the moment – on the UN position read also a McClatchy article here).
There were also talks about a meeting in the Palace – between the two-vice presidents, as Karzai is travelling abroad. Karim Khalili was rumoured to have threatened resigning if the excluded MPs were not reinstated, but to have been soothed by Marshal Fahim before he could announce it in a press conference. These seems to be just rumours. Whatever the concerns of Khalili about the decision of the IEC creating a precedent, and opening possibilities for new changes in the WJ composition, it seems unlikely that he – or anybody else – would do something for what starts to look like a lost cause.
Whatever the possibilty that protests will continue, it is in fact difficult to imagine this impasse lasting for another 10 months. But this could also depend on whose interest it is to have the WJ again stuck for an indefinite amount of time. The matter, the whole dispute on the electoral results, could be ultimately over – even the presidential office let it through that they find the outcome kind of satisfactory. Unless the remaining 53 protesting candidates who had been announced as re-included by the Special Court (see our previous blogs here and here) are able to stir more troubles, and the Supreme Court, the Attorney General or anybody else around are willing to support their cause.
(*) Nesar Ghuriani from Herat, one of the newly proclaimed MPs, is reportedly in America at present. On the excluded MPs’s side, Shakir Kargar from Fariab was not present at the protest. He is also rumoured to be out of the country.
(**) The Reformers declared – shrouding it in a very careful wording – that, although the IEC’s decision had its shortcomings, for the sake of the national interests and stability the MPs should sacrifice and obey to it, also because the long-drawn dispute had created a serious performance deficit in the Lower House.
(***) Later, after the protest had died down and the MPs had regrouped at their starting point, some of the excluded MPs gave vent to their frustration in stronger tones: ‘Karzai is no better than a murderer and the only solution to this crisis is that both him and the Parliament resign and an interim administration leads the country towards new elections.’ Or: ‘The foreigners must know what their sons and daughters are dying for in Afghanistan. Those parents who maybe tenderly nurtured an only son – your families are so small – to see him die in Afghanistan one day must realize what kind of democracy you are defending here, the democracy of armed people on the roofs!’
This article was last updated on 9 Mar 2020