Afghanistan's Troublesome Parliament
|Publisher||Institute for War and Peace Reporting|
|Author||Khan Mohammad Danishju|
|Publication Date||20 September 2011|
|Citation / Document Symbol||ARR Issue 410|
|Cite as||Institute for War and Peace Reporting, Afghanistan's Troublesome Parliament, 20 September 2011, ARR Issue 410, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4e7c521e2.html [accessed 11 July 2014]|
Afghanistan's parliament is in crisis after a group of members walked out because nine of their colleagues had their seats removed.
After months of wrangling over allegations of fraud in the September 2010 parliamentary election, Afghanistan's election commission disbarred nine members and named nine others to replace them in August.
The decision leaves neither side victorious in the dispute over the contested election result.
Last December, President Hamid Karzai set up a special court to investigate claims of electoral abuse, effectively calling into question the Independent Election Commission, IEC, and Electoral Complaints Commission, which are supposed to be the final arbiters on election results.
When the tribunal produced its findings in June, it ruled that 62 members of the 249 members of parliament's lower house, the Wolesi Jirga, must stand down and be replaced by others following recounts in those constituencies.
Parliament rejected the tribunal's findings, so further negotiations took place and the case was referred to a court of appeal. The result was a deal in which the IEC – which had earlier said it would not let even one seat be changed – approved nine new members.
The compromise left no one satisfied. Supporters of the remaining 53 candidates marched through Kabul in August to protest against the IEC's continued rejection of them. Wolesi Jirga speaker Abdul Rauf Ibrahimi, meanwhile, said the nine new members had only been admitted because of the pressure exerted by Karzai's office.
On September 3, when eight of the nine came to take up their seats, the parliament building was ringed by police to prevent trouble.
At a subsequent cabinet meeting, the president declared the parliamentary crisis over. His optimism was almost certainly premature.
A group of parliamentarians calling themselves the Coalition for Support of the Law boycotted the session, saying the IEC decision was illegal and the deployment of police was tantamount to a coup against the legislature.
The dissidents have stayed away, and have instead held meetings on their own elsewhere.
"This whole process has been illegal from the establishment of the special court through to the exclusion of 62 MPs and the inclusion of nine new ones. It has created a crisis," Abdol Qayum Sajjadi, an elected member from Ghazni province and a member of the Coalition for Support of the Law, said.
Sajjadi said the government should have used a mechanism that was legal if it wanted to resolve the dispute.
The Karzai administration insists its actions are entirely constitutional.
Daud Sultanzoi, one of the 53 candidates awarded seats by the tribunal but still denied a seat by the IEC, said both parliament and the election body were being manipulated by a "power mafia", which he believes has dubious foreign connections. "Certain foreign countries have invested in some individuals so as to protect their interests. They helped them get into parliament. Now these countries do not want to lose their agents," he said.
Esmat Qaneh, a lawyer and political analyst, said both parliament and the IEC were driven by "personal interest".
"Those who are embroiled in controversies in parliament, who call every decision illegal, and who are now holding parliament hostage, have never thought about the national interests of the country or the problems that face people," he said. "They give preference to personal and factional interests over the national interest."
Eight months of political conflict have limited productive legislative activity, and the boycott by dissidents, which deprives the Wolesi Jirga of a quorum to pass bills, means that work has effectively ground to a halt.
According to parliamentarian Daud Kalakani, elected from Kabul, the ongoing crisis has had a direct negative impact on people's lives.
He cited a report from the economy ministry which said government departments has spent just two per cent of the development budget to date in the fiscal year starting in March 2011. The Afghan government operates two accounts known as the operating and development budgets, the latter funded almost entirely by international donors – the money they are given to carry out projects as opposed to paying for their general running costs.
"This demonstrates the inefficiency of the government and parliament, because political conflicts have paralysed both of them," Kalakani said.
As politicians and officials clashed and issued rulings against one another, people in parts of Afghanistan were being driven off their lands by drought and unemployment, he added.
His colleague Shukria Barakzai, who also represents Kabul, said members should ask themselves what they personally achieved since parliament was convened in January.
"I am ashamed of the title 'member of parliament'," she said. "People hate the legislators for creating trouble for them and giving rise to economic problems. They have also engendered national divisions and ethnic prejudice."
Afghans interviewed by IWPR expressed the same sense of disappointment, which has led some to question what the value of democracy is.
"I've been unemployed for the past two years, and I watch the news on TV every night in the hope that the government and parliament will take a decision to create jobs for us," Mashal, a resident of Qala-e Fathollah in Kabul, said. "But all I hear is that parliament is fighting against the government and the prosecutor's office, which in turn are fighting back against parliament. This news disappoints us."
For Zainab, a student of journalism at Kabul University, the self-seeking and sometimes criminal behaviour of some legislators devalues the principles of democracy.
"In my opinion, instead of imported democracy, which is irrational, rotten and uncontrolled, there is a need for a rational dictatorship, which would take on all the lawless criminals and prosecute them," she said.
Mashal agreed that too many politicians in Afghanistan were preoccupied with furthering their own interests and those of their kinsmen.
"I am weary of this parliament. It must close its doors, for it has become a burden on our nation" he said.
Khan Mohammad Danishju is an IWPR-trained reporter in Kabul.