Afghanistan election: Why the next parliament won't check Karzai's power
The results of Saturday's Afghanistan election aren't expected for days, but because the parliamentary candidates ran as individuals, not as party members, they are unlikely to unite in opposition to President Hamid Karzai.
Afghanistan's election on Saturday was tarnished by attacks that killed at least 12 people, reports of fraud, and a light turnout. Still, whichever parliamentary candidates end up victorious once results finally trickle in will play a role in the coming scrum for power as international forces draw down over the five-year term ahead.Skip to next paragraph
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Specifically, President Hamid Karzai could try to dodge his term limit or step up negotiations with the Taliban in an effort to retain power. Also in the mix will be a decision over long-term basing rights for American troops.
These issues are of intense interest to fractious opposition forces and outside governments alike, many of whom have serious doubts about fully trusting Mr. Karzai's judgment. They are hoping that the next parliament – which won't be sorted out and seated for months – will become a more effective check on Afghanistan's executive branch.
But the new parliament is unlikely to be a strong check on Karzai, because the candidates mostly ran as individuals rather than under the banner of parties or the disorganized opposition movement.
"I believe that the next parliament, unfortunately, will be even weaker than the current one," says Sabrina Saqib, a member of Parliament from Kabul. "Because we are all running as individuals, it's very easy to buy MPs, to deal with them, when we are individuals."
She decided not to stand for the new parliament because it would once again be 249 members each working alone, thereby getting little done.
Afghan political parties are mostly irrelevant, having been largely discredited during the initial decades of the Afghan conflict.
Karzai, meanwhile, has no party but has the apparatus of government, with which he could influence votes – legally and illegally. His family also controls major businesses like the troubled Kabul Bank, allowing him indirect avenues through which to financially support pliant MPs.
To be sure, other players put money into the election for disparate reasons.
Businessmen are not all in league with Karzai – some are apparently frustrated with his family's control of the business landscape. Malalai Ishaq Zai, a vocal critic of Karzai's half-brother in Kandahar, says she is receiving support from various businessmen there.
But broader-based unhappiness with the government and its secretive outreach to the Taliban have so far not been effectively channeled into a coherent opposition movement.
Saqib supported Abdullah Abdullah during his challenge to Karzai for the presidency last year. When he lost, Dr. Abdullah promised to work for a national opposition movement.