The parliamentary stand-off is apparently nearing its end. Manawi, the head of the Independent Electoral Commission, is expected to announce a decision towards the end of the week – a responsibility that has been passed on from the Special Electoral Tribunal to the Kabul Appeals Court, back to the President, and now finally to the IEC. The sitting MPS threaten that they will accept no changes to the Parliament’s composition, while Manawi has indicated that he probably will have no choice but to remove at least a few. Many of the internationals seem to believe that a compromise is imminent and that after the IEC announcement everybody will finally be able to move on. But this last chapter of the scuffle is likely be messy, as the various sides are mobilizing their people and using increasingly heated language.
The conflict started when the messy 2010 electoral process resulted in a Parliament with a larger number of opposition-minded and non-Pashtun MPs than expected.* The President, believing that he had been tricked, tried to delay the inauguration of Parliament while it was still being investigated, but ultimately failed to do so (the internationals told him that they would simply turn up to the ceremony). In the meantime the Supreme Court had established a controversial Special Electoral Tribunal to investigate the extent of the electoral fraud. The tribunal mobilised local members of the judiciary and other government offices, who started a seemingly random and uncontrolled process of investigations and recounts, which resulted in a list of 62 MPs that were to be replaced by their previously losing rivals. The IEC refused to implement the decision, contesting the legality of the tribunal, the Parliament was up in arms, and the Council of Protesting Candidates expressed their support for the court through demonstrations and gatherings.
The stand-off has harmed the legitimacy of all three powers of government, who now feel justified to consistently contest each other’s authorities – blaming each other of having broken the law and having lost their credibility, due to undue interference (by the executive), a total lack of independence and the expiration of their term (of the judiciary) and the questionability of their elected status (of the legislative). The presidential ruling of 10 August 2011, potentially patches up relations with the IEC and can be interpreted as the return to a seeming respect for the letter of the law. It has however also laid the problem squarely on the shoulders of IEC head Fazl Ahmad Manawi.
Manawi continues to in principle contest the authority of the Special Electoral Tribunal. He has however also indicated that, whether he wants to or not, he has no other option than to review the findings of the tribunal (the form in which they have been presented, incidentally, remains unclear) and that this may result in the removal of some MPs. He additionally tries to cover his back by adding that such a removal may, in turn, lead to crisis. (See BBC Persian interview here). People around Manawi indicated that he had no choice, after he found himself without support: his erstwhile backers Vice President Fahim and Ustad Rabbani had recently agreed to the implementation of the tribunal’s decision.** Moreover, the internationals were increasingly signaling that they would not oppose the removal of a smaller number of MPs, as long as it helped solve the ongoing deadlock.
In July 2011 Manawi had suggested a “six-point plan” to the President, which involved the reinstatement of 17 candidates disqualified by the ECC (this would allow the IEC to continue to claim that it had done its work properly). Some believe that the IEC may now go for this option. Others speculate that they may go for a 17+3 compromise (which could add MPs from Ghazni), or alternatively settle for only a handful. So far, the IEC seems to be leaning towards an incremental approach, rather than a wholesale implementation – or rejection – of either the tribunal’s list of 62 or of its own six-point plan. There are indications that the committee that has started investigating the matter may have already decided on a handful MPs that are to be changed.
Several politicians have commented that the removal of a smaller portion of MPs will be even more problematic than the full implementation of the tribunal’s list of 62 (which has now become a list of 61, after the recent death of Kandahar candidate Amer Lalai), as it threatens to pit Manawi against both the sitting Parliament and the Council of Protesting Candidates. On the other hand, the internal unity and solidarity on both sides may well fragment once the IEC delivers its decision: MPs who were on the original list to be removed and who have been allowed to stay will breathe a sigh of relief, while candidates who have newly been made MP will actually wish to welcome the outcome, even though it may not have benefited their fellow protestors.
While the IEC is grappling with its new and difficult task, the various sides in the dispute are mobilizing their people, in an attempt to show off strength and public support. After President Karzai released his ruling on 10 August 2011 (see previous AAN blog for details on what it says and why this is confusing) opposition was swift to gather. The parliamentary Coalition for Support of the Law set up a large tent in the vicinity of the Parliament where its supporters can congregate. Opposition leaders, including former NDS chief Amrullah Saleh and spokesperson of Dr Abdullah’s Change and Hope coalition Seyd Agha Fazl Sangcharaki, came and announced their support for the MPs’ struggle to retain their seats (Sangcharaki was fairly moderate, while Saleh’s promise of support sounded intentionally ominous). In a seeming attempt to broaden the support base, the Coalition for Support of the Law has now called a large consultative meeting with political parties and civil society on Tuesday 16 August 2011, to discuss ways in which to safeguard the rule of law. It remains to be seen whether participation will go beyond the usual suspects and the bused in audience.
Karzai supporters and local branches of the judiciary responded in kind with counter-demonstrations and gatherings. Several of these meetings passed resolutions. They declared support for the President’s ruling, called on the IEC to implement the tribunal’s decision, and criticized the recently repeated – but largely ignored – “firing” of the Supreme Court judges and the Attorney-General by the Wolesi Jirga. A gathering in Nangarhar claimed that if the MPs were allowed to brush off the court’s ruling you might as well release all prisoners who had been sentenced, given how easily a court’s decisions can be ignored.
Both sides have been using inflammatory language that threatens to potentially backfire. Haji Zaher, the leader of the Coalition for Support of the Law, was the most provocative on the side of the opposition, telling the President that “You were just a restaurant owner in the United States, we cast our vote and chose you as president of Afghanistan. We can also take our votes back.” He further threatened that if the President did not correct his mistakes, they would take the protests to the four doors of the palace and tell him “Excellency, honourably write your resignation and goodbye.” The clip was endlessly repeated on television. Several speeches accused the President of trampling the law (qanoonshekani) and of intentionally steering the country towards crisis, so that he can declare a state of emergency or ensure a third term for himself. Karzai supporters have been swift to condemn such claims as unacceptable insults to the personality of the President (see for instance Sunday’s reaction by the Senate). But also members of the law support coalition have felt uncomfortable with the tone of the discourse and it seems some have already started to leave.
Those defending the rulings of the judiciary have reverted to religiously loaded language. During a press conference by officials from the Supreme Court and the Kabul Appeals Court on Saturday 13 August one of the judges upped the ante by insisting that it was the courts’ duty to uphold sharia and that anyone opposing the judiciary’s rulings was opposing sharia. This was echoed, in almost identical wording by Daoud Sultanzoi,one of the more prominent protesting candidates and generally recognized as fairly democratically-minded, as well as Meshrano Jirga chair Muslemyar. (Sultanzoi in a television interview said “The court decision is binding and enforced by Islamic [Shari’a] law. Nobody can defy the injunctions sanctified by the law. If they stand in the way of implementing this decision they will be considered ‘mutamarid’ [defying Islamic principles]. We all know that what Shari’a prescribes for dealing with such people.”)
What complicates the matter is that the dispute is not just between the Parliamentarians who threaten to lose their seats and the candidates who believe they should be made MP. Over the months it became a battle of wills between the three powers of government, and also between pro-Karzai circles and the opposition, with considerable ethnic and factional overtones. The fact that the different faultlines – sitting versus prospective MPs, executive and judiciary versus the legislative, pro-Karzai versus opposition, Pashtun versus non-Pashtun, mujahedin networks against “the communists” – don’t fully coincide, makes the various coalitions fragile and vulnerable to fracturing.
A pro-Karzai parliamentary group for instance announced its establishment the day after Karzai’s issued his ruling and may become a potential rallying point, in particular as the IEC outcome becomes clearer.*** On the other side three prominent protesting candidates who were member of Dr Abdullah’s Change and Hope coalition (and who expect to benefit from a new IEC decision) publicly left the coalition, angry that it had announced its support for the MPs opposing the President’s ruling.**** And, as indicated earlier, some of the protesting MPs and members of the various opposition coalitions are hovering, as they feel uncomfortable with some of the inflammatory and disrespectful language.
The parliamentary stand-off has resulted in several bizarre inversions of political relations. The government and the judiciary have found themselves on the same side as a group of long-demonstrating and unsuccessful candidates. The sitting Parliament and the opposition, who were on the same side as the IEC and until recently felt supported by the internationals, have branded themselves as the guardians of the law – against a “law-breaking” President and an overly pliant judiciary. IEC head Manawi, who had always repeated that a change in the composition of the inaugurated Parliament was “a dream and a mirage” will now be picking MPs that are to be replaced. And the internationals, who have always supported the electoral results as announced by the IEC, are now accepting a (partial) over-turning of that very decision, in exchange for the re-affirmation of the IEC’s authority and a normalization of relations within the government.
Interestingly, this is a compromise in which the main protagonists – the sitting MPs and the opposition – have not been included. The support of Fahim and Rabbani, and the nod and wink by the internationals, seems to be considered sufficient by the President and his advisers. And the internationals do not seem too worried about a complaining opposition, as they can now finally side with the government and move on.
* The messiness of the vote and the intrusive decisions by both the IEC and the ECC did in fact provide ample opportunity to influence the outcome of the elections. The IEC claims to have disqualified a total of 1.2 million votes, which may represent up to 20% of the total (although probably not all of these votes really existed). The ECC disqualified a smaller number of votes (probably under 300,000), but disqualified 23 winning and 3 almost‐winning candidates. Additionally, a large number of previously uncounted ballot boxes, representing around 45,000 votes, were added by the IEC at the last minute. For more details see AAN’s report Untangling Afghanistan’s 2010 Vote.
** ThePresident called a large meeting to discuss the electoral deadlock on 6 August 2011. Those present, according to a statement by the President’s office, included Vice President Fahim, acting Chief Justice Abdul Salam Azimi, Wolesi Jirga Speaker Abdul Rauf Ibrahimi, Meshrano Jirga Chairman Fazal Hadi Muslimyar, Attorney General Ishaq Aloko, head of the High Peace Council Burhanuddin Rabbani, head of the National Reconciliation Commission Sibghatullah Mujaddedi, presidential advisors Niamatullah Shahrani and Din Mohammad, head of the Ulema Council Mowlawi Qayamuddin Kashaf, head of the Independent Commission for Supervision of the Implementation of the Constitutions Gul Rahman Qazi, head of the Judicial Board Nasrullah Stanikzai and Minister of Parliamentary Affairs Humayun Azizi. Others have also placed Abdul-Rab Sayyaf and Vice President Khalili (who was reportedly distinctly unhappy with where the discussion was going) at that meeting. Reports vary as to whether an agreement was reached then and there or whether discussions were inconclusive and agreements were reached in consecutive smaller meetings.
*** For some reason the palace statement (dated 11 August 2011) described them as a jama’a or gathering rather than a parliamentary group. MPS who were mentioned by name included Sediq Ahmad Osmani, Aryan Yun, Haji Almas and Abdul Sattar Darzabi. This was incidentally also the group to which Karzai announced that he would not run for President a third time.
**** The three angry candidates are Hamidullah Tokhi from Zabul, Din Mohammad Azemi from Ghor and Nurullah Mehmar from Nuristan. In another move that seemed aimed at discrediting Haji Zaher may well help fracture the opposition, a Dari language website printed an article today,claiming that Haji Zaher, Manawi and the President had reached a compromise and that Haji Zaher had agreed to the removal of three MPs (who were mentioned by name).
This article was last updated on 9 Mar 2020