After standoff, Karzai opens newly assertive Afghan parliament
Afghanistan's President Karzai had tried to delay convening the new parliament until a special court finished investigating allegations of election fraud. His concession highlights the growing power of the legislative branch.
Mr. Karzai had tried to delay the convening of the new parliament until a special court finished investigating allegations of election fraud. The victorious candidates – as of today, sitting parliamentarians – had argued the court was unconstitutional and that they would convene with or without the president’s blessing. Key international players appeared to back the new parliament, prompting Karzai to complain about “foreign hands” stoking the crisis.
Since Karzai’s fraud-marred reelection, lawmakers have successfully challenged more of his major decisions, holding out the prospect of diverse power centers competing inside the constitutional process, rather than just on the battlefield. Yet the parliament remains weak, and this particular standoff with Karzai may not be over.
“There are so many issues not resolved: What will be the role of the special court, whether [its] decisions will be binding or not, and how to implement the decisions,” says Shahmahmood Miakhel, country director for the United States Institute of Peace in Kabul. “So we can not say this is the end of the story.”
Special deals with the special court?
Statements from Karzai indicate that he thinks a deal was struck with parliamentarians to allow the special court to continue its investigation and to abide by its findings, expected in February. But legislative leaders appear to be saying something different.
“There is no special agreement between MPs and President Karzai on the special court,” says Fawzia Kofi, a reelected MP from Badakhshan. “The agreement was that cases of criminal issues related to elections should be dealt according to the law – the Constitution, and electoral law, and the regular courts – not the special court.”
However, MPs have a certain amount of immunity under the law. Ms. Kofi says the immunity does not extend to “obvious crimes” like murder and bribes, but simply protects free speech. Mr. Miakhel, however, notes that the courts have to seek permission from the leadership of parliament before pursuing criminal cases against MPs.