Afghan lawmakers plan showdown with president

(AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)

January 21, 2011 7:28:27 AM PST
Newly elected Afghan lawmakers plan a political showdown this weekend with President Hamid Karzai over his decision to postpone the opening session of parliament for a month so a tribunal can keep investigating allegations of election fraud.

More than 200 lawmakers met Friday at a hotel in the Afghan capital and strongly reiterated their decision to defy Karzai by opening the parliament on Sunday as planned - even if the president doesn't show up. Afghan law requires him to attend the first meeting of the legislature.

In an attempt to avoid a political crisis, Karzai sent a representative to the hotel to invite all members of parliament to discuss the issue over lunch Saturday at the presidential palace, according to lawmakers at the gathering. They say they hope they can persuade Karzai to change his mind about delaying the start of parliament, but say they won't back down from the plan to hold their inaugural session on Sunday - with or without the president.

"If the police don't let us in the parliament, we can meet in the street, the road - there are open fields," said Mohammad Akbari, a parliamentarian from Bamiyan province. "We are against tension and protests, but we are the representatives of the Afghan people. The president cannot postpone parliament. We are in the right."

Karzai's decision to delay parliament's opening was in response to a request for more time by a special tribunal set up last month to investigate allegations of fraud in September's parliamentary elections.

The Afghan parliament is seen as weak compared with Karzai's administration, but the legislature has successfully blocked many of the president's Cabinet appointments and been the primary dissenting voice to the powerful executive.

Mohammad Anwar Khan Horyakhil, a member of parliament from Kabul, predicted that more than 200 lawmakers, each with several bodyguards, will show up at the parliament building on Sunday.

He said he did not want to see any violence on Sunday, "but we are not a small group."

It is generally believed that Karzai is unhappy with the election results and thinks fraud reduced voter turnout among his fellow ethnic Pashtuns.

A free and fair parliamentary election would have demonstrated Karzai's commitment to fight cronyism and corruption a year after an international outcry over a fraud-marred presidential vote that resulted in his own re-election. Instead, the parliamentary ballot - in which 2,500 contenders ran for 249 seats - was tainted by familiar allegations of fraud and voter intimidation.

The parliament was set to start work Sunday after an earlier investigation by an anti-fraud watchdog into the charges of irregularities. That group discarded 1.3 million ballots - nearly a quarter of the total - and disqualified 19 winning candidates before final results were issued on Nov. 24.

But Afghanistan's attorney general concluded that investigation had not been thorough enough. The attorney general launched a new round of inquiries, which led the Supreme Court to create the special tribunal in late December.

Hundreds of losing candidates say Karzai has told them that he believes they were wronged and that he will do everything to support further investigations.

It is unclear if the tribunal - deemed unconstitutional by both the international community and the electoral bodies who organized and oversaw the election - has the power to alter the result of any races. Afghan electoral law names the fraud investigation panel as the ultimate arbiter of such issues and the Independent Election Commission as the body to declare final results.

Gul Pacha Majidi, a winning candidate from Paktia province, said he hopes the lawmakers and Karzai can resolve the dispute, which he said could spark protests across the country.

"All the people of Afghanistan are suffering from this situation," he said. "It's dangerous for the people and for the government."

Violence continues across the nation amid the political debate. A remote-controlled bomb attached to a bicycle exploded Friday as the vehicle of a provincial leader in southern Afghanistan drove by, killing two of his guards.

Amanullah Hotak, the head of the provincial council in Uruzgan province, said he escaped injury but that two other bodyguards were injured in the blast as well.

"I was the target, but I'm safe and sound," he said.

The explosion occurred in Dihrawud district, a dangerous area in the south of the province.

NATO and Afghan forces have been routing insurgents from their strongholds in the south and the Taliban have retaliated with attacks against Afghan government officials and others aligned with the coalition.


Associated Press writer Amir Shah in Kabul and Mirwais Khan in Kandahar contributed to this report.