Karzai opens new Afghan parliament

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

KABUL - Afghan President Hamid Karzai inaugurated a new parliament Wednesday, ending a drawn-out political showdown with lawmakers over the opening date that had plunged the country deeper into crisis.

In a ceremony in Kabul, Karzai swore in 249 members of lower house of parliament, known as Wolesi Jirga, amid tight security.

The president urged the new lawmakers to set aside their differences for the sake of the nation.

“It is natural that there are competitions during the elections. It is natural that there are problems, but when the competition ends the national unity starts,” Karzai said.

“Given the dangers that our country is facing, and given the opportunity that we have for a prosperous future, I hope that we all join hands and lead our country towards a situation that all Afghans hope for,” he said.

Karzai had postponed the session until Feb 22, but he later agreed to open it on Wednesday after lawmakers, allegedly backed by Western countries, threatened to go ahead without him.

The president Tuesday told defeated candidates that he had agreed to the new date because he felt that Western countries were trying to create a crisis by provoking legislators against him.

The UN’s top envoy to Afghanistan, Staffan de Mistura, met with elected candidates over three days and called on Karzai to open the new session “as soon as possible”. Similar demands had also been made by US and NATO officials.

On Wednesday, Karzai repeated his concerns about the pressure, saying his country must “put an end to foreign interference”.

“Our latest parliamentary election was plagued by a legitimacy crisis, confusions and interference,” Karzai said at the ceremony, attended by cabinet ministers, foreign ambassadors and the top NATO commander in Afghanistan, US General David Petraeus.

“The question here is: which powers want to lead our young system towards legitimacy crisis and put the three pillars of our government in confrontation with each other?” he asked. “We must encounter these issues with unprecedented caution.”

The president said future elections must be organised by Afghans, noting that the UN said the last poll cost $140 million.

“One of the poorest countries in the world had the most expensive elections,” he said. “Without any doubt, the Afghanisation of our elections would be much cheaper, more transparent and good for the democracy in our country.”

Although Wednesday’s session ended around four months political uncertainty created by the fraud-tainted September vote, the question of which entity had the power to investigate hundreds of complaints regarding the electoral violations remains unresolved.

Against the will of newly elected parliamentarians, Karzai vowed Tuesday to keep a special tribunal that he formed to look into allegations of fraud.

The new lawmakers said they would accept any verdicts by the Supreme Court, provided their parliamentary immunity was respected. They also said that they would debate the legality of the special tribunal in parliament.

“The special court has no legal basis from our prospective, it is basically a political decision,” Fauzia Kofi, a leading female lawmaker from the northern province of Badakhshan told DPA.

“After inaugurating the parliament, I am sure this (special court) will be one of the priorities for the parliamentarians and although it is not a matter of debate from day one, we will still debate it and I am sure the parliamentarians will reject it,” she said.

Meanwhile, around 200 losing candidates remained inside the presidential palace, protesting the decision to open of the new session, an official said Wednesday.

Extra police were deployed around the parliament building in western Kabul and more checkpoints were seen throughout the city.

The stepped-up security was imposed as the Taliban carried out attacks across the country during the Sep 18 elections.

In an online statement, Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid, downplayed the importance of the new parliament, saying: “All these parliamentarians are hand-picked by the US, so in reality this parliament is also part of this puppet government.”

Filed under: Politics

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