Azaranica is a non-biased news aggregator on Hazaras. The main aim is to promote understanding and respect for cultural identities by highlighting the realities they face on daily basis...Hazaras have been the victim of active persecution and discrimination and one of the reasons among many has been the lack of information, awareness, and disinformation.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Afghan Parliament Opening Delayed


KABUL—Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Wednesday delayed the incoming parliament's opening by a month to give a tribunal more time to investigate fraud allegations, as the conflict over controversial legislative elections intensified.

Former Afghan lawmakers listen to Sediqullah Haqiq, head of a tribunal investigating alleged fraud during last year's election, in Kabul Wednesday.
Mr. Karzai has repeatedly criticized the new parliament, which was scheduled to convene for the first time Sunday, as unrepresentative because it doesn't allocate enough seats to the country's biggest ethnic group, the Pashtuns. Mr. Karzai, a Pashtun who created the special court last month to review fraud claims by losing candidates, agreed to that court's request for the delay just hours after it was made.

The president's move puts him at odds with the United Nations and the U.S.-led coalition, which have accepted as final the election's results, as certified by Afghanistan's Independent Election Commission in December.

The IEC and the U.N.-backed watchdog, the Electoral Complaints Commission, are refusing to cooperate with the special court, saying the judges have no legal authority to interfere with election results under the Afghan constitution. Mr. Karzai on Wednesday ordered all Afghan government bodies to collaborate with the inquiry.

Over the past year, the Afghan parliament has emerged as a check on Mr. Karzai's powers, vetoing his ministerial candidates and opposing several of his policies. The new parliament's composition is seen as even more hostile to Mr. Karzai. Some Western diplomats say the Afghan president's true goal is to weaken the new legislature—and to keep it from convening for as long as possible.

Delaying the inauguration "is something that will hurt the legitimacy and the credibility of the new parliament," said Haroun Mir, the director of the Afghanistan Center for Research and Policy Studies, who unsuccessfully ran for parliament himself.

Western diplomats said representatives of the international community will gather Thursday to discuss how to react to Mr. Karzai's move. The U.S. Embassy in Kabul said its views on the election are reflected by last month's U.N. Security Council statement, which welcomed the election commission's certification of the results and urged "all Afghan institutions act within their clearly defined areas of competence, in accordance with the relevant laws and the Afghan Constitution."

The Sept. 18 parliamentary election had the lowest turnout of any Afghan election since the Taliban regime was ousted in 2001. While international observers agree there was widespread fraud, they say the electoral commission behaved far more professionally last year than in the 2009 presidential election.

Afghanistan's attorney general, a close ally of Mr. Karzai, is seeking criminal charges against top IEC and ECC officials for their alleged involvement in fraud during the parliamentary vote.

U.S. Slows Afghan Security-Force Expansion Gains by Taliban Open Door to Opium Revival The special court's request to delay the parliament's opening was made on the last day of orientation for incoming Afghan lawmakers, a session held in Kabul's Intercontinental Hotel. Winning candidates shunned the remaining seminars to gather in the hallways, talking in hushed and angry tones about how to mobilize their protesters.

"Democracy isn't a toy to be played with—people risked their lives to vote," said winning incumbent Shinkai Karokhail, elected from Kabul.

Incoming lawmakers said they are worried that the political crisis will spill onto the streets of Afghanistan's major cities, pitting Pashtuns against the country's minorities, such as the Hazaras, who are well-represented in the new legislature. In the Pashtun-majority Ghazni province, for example, all 11 elected lawmakers are Hazaras, largely because the Taliban have succeeded in derailing the vote in most Pashtun villages.

It isn't clear how the special court will carry out its investigations, as both the IEC and the ECC said they won't share any information with the judges, referring them instead to the election commissions' websites.

The special court's chairman, Sediqullah Haqiq, raised the possibility that the entire election may be thrown out. "We have received complaints from all the provinces, and in each province people complained about fraud," he said Wednesday, speaking in a courtroom packed with losing parliamentary candidates.

In the eastern Paktika province, meanwhile, a roadside bomb Wednesday killed 13 Afghan civilians, including women and children, officials said. Paktika is one of the provinces most heavily affected by the Taliban, who routinely plant roadside explosive devices as they target coalition and Afghan forces.

—Arif Afzalzada and Habib Khan Totakhil contributed to this article.


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