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Afghan Special Court begins tossing out parliamentarians

As the U.S. heads for the exits, Afghanistan has a full-blown internal political crisis. What else can go wrong?
Afghanistan parliament 2011 6 23Enlarge
Members of Parliament wait for Afghan President Hamid Karzai to inaugurate the new parliament in Kabul on January 26, 2011. Karzai opened Afghanistan's parliament on January 26, ending a week-long stand-off with the newly elected MPs who had threatened to inaugurate the legislature with or without him. (Shah Marai /AFP/Getty Images)

The Afghan Parliament reacted furiously Thursday to a ruling by a Special Court that could land at least a quarter of the lawmakers out of a job.

In a televised session, the five-member panel announced their decisions on a recount of parliamentary ballots that would disqualify more than 40 of the 249 current MPs. The final head roll could be more than 70.

The hastily assembled MPs called for street protests and threatened to defy the court, which they have long held has no legal standing.

The legislature has been in high dudgeon since December, ever since President Hamid Karzai instituted a Special Court to adjudicate cases of fraud in last September’s parliamentary elections.

Few would dispute that the ballot was highly irregular; but according to Afghanistan’s Election Law, final decisions on electoral matters are to be taken by the Independent Election Commission and the Electoral Complaints Commission.

These two bodies took more than two months to finalize the results of the elections, but once they announced their decision, lawmakers breathed a sigh of relief. The president also tried to delay the Parliament’s inauguration, since, rumor had it, he was not pleased with its composition. He finally opened the legislature in late January, but not before establishing the Special Court.

Legal analysts, Afghan officials and many international observers agree with the Parliament that the Special Court has no legal standing to rule on electoral matters, but this does not seem to bother the executive branch. Karzai had a constitutional commission rule that the Court was perfectly in line with the law, and the five court members proceeded with their investigation.

Parliamentarians complained that the court was a political tool for Karzai, allowing him to pressure recalcitrant lawmakers. Anyone who did not fall in line with the president’s plan could be threatened with disqualification by the court, they insisted.

Along with the continuing tension over the court, the legislature and the executive branch have been warring over the cabinet. In January of 2010, Karzai sent his nominees to the old Parliament for confirmation. Out of 24 candidates, the legislature rejected 17. After a second try and some determined lobbying by the executive branch, all but seven were confirmed.

Undaunted, Karzai simply installed the rejects as Acting Ministers, where they sit to this day.

According to the law, temporary appointments of this nature can last for no more than one month. But a year and a half later, with a new Parliament already seated, the Acting Ministers continue in their jobs.

The parliament is determined to force the president to send a new list of nominees, and has twice delayed its summer recess, saying that the MPs will not leave the capital until the matters of the cabinet and the Special Court were settled.

They even found time Thursday morning to issue a vote of no confidence in Attorney General Mohammad Ishaq Aloko, for refusing to appear before parliament when summoned to answer on the status of the Special Court.

Now that the court has issued its findings, matters will undoubtedly become exponentially more complicated. Those lawmakers who have been disqualified refuse to recognize the court’s authority; the new parliamentarians are just as determined to take their seats.

These are complicated maneuvers, and no one is quite sure what the endgame is. Originally, most people thought that Karzai was manipulating the system to get himself a more pliable Parliament. But the toothless body that has been seated since January could hardly have posed less of a threat.

Indeed, some Afghan insiders, watching the proceedings, remarked that some diehard critics of the Afghan president were among the new crop of MPs.

It is too soon to tell what the final outcome of the latest political fracas will be.

But one thing is for sure: it is going to be a long, hot summer.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatches/globalpost-blogs/dispatches-afpak/afghan-special-court-begins-tossing-out-parliamentarian