ISW in Brief: Afghan Parliament Stymied by Protests, Infighting

Afghan Parliament Stymied by Protests, Infighting  
September 1, 2011
Nearly 700 Afghans took to the streets and threatened to block off roads in Kabul last week to protest a recent ruling by the Independent Election Commission (IEC) that called for the replacement of nine members of parliament (MPs). This was the result of a bitter controversy that has plagued the Afghan government since parliamentary elections in September 2010, and each new development brings the Afghan government closer to complete dysfunction. Although President Hamid Karzai and the UN endorsed the decision, the IEC’s attempt to mollify all parties involved has resulted in a further polarized and uncompromising parliament.
This year-long dispute has not only kept the Wolesi Jirga (Lower House) from passing legislation, but has also undermined the legitimacy of government officials throughout the country. The UN issued a statement urging MPs to resume their legislative work, but lawmakers remain distracted and will likely continue to protest and press forward their own political objectives.
Karzai’s special tribunal, convened to conduct an extrajudicial investigation of the election fraud, declared in June 2011 that 62 of the 249 MPs in the Wolesi Jirga had won their seats through fraudulent means and would therefore be disqualified from serving in their posts. Predictably, current MPs immediately condemned the alarming announcement, while candidates who failed to win seats in 2010 expressed their public approval. Many MPs criticized Karzai for attempting to singlehandedly manipulate election results to ensure a more pliable parliament. On June 23, under immense international pressure, Karzai disbanded the tribunal and recognized the IEC’s authority over election matters. Although the IEC had originally refused to recognize the special tribunal and its call for the replacement of 62 MPs, the IEC eventually modified its stance to rule that nine MPs would be unseated.
This latest verdict was likely an attempt at compromise, but opposing parties have instead assumed increasingly polarized views. Defeated candidates, who had been counting on the special tribunal to ensure their seats in parliament, have threatened to stage large-scale demonstrations if the previously-announced 62 alternate candidates are not seated. Currently-seated MPs, the majority of whom are members of a “Coalition for the Support of the Rule of Law,” have rejected calls to unseat even a single parliamentarian. “Changes are not acceptable by us and we are not ready to swear [in] and replace MPs, if it is one or more,” deputy speaker Ahmad Behzad told the Wall Street Journal. “Once the [final election] results are announced, no organization has the authority to change it,” added Ahmad Zia Rafat, an electoral spokesman and law lecturer at Kabul University. “It is not believed that this decision … will end the crisis, indeed we are entering another phase of crisis.”  Those nine MPs who now find themselves ordered to vacate their positions have demanded the prosecution of IEC officials. 
Meanwhile, members of the Wolesi Jirga are distracted from their legislative tasks and unable to effectively counterbalance Karzai’s executive authority. Acting ministers not confirmed by the parliament still hold several cabinet positions, and Karzai has shown no indication of when he will submit new nominees to the Wolesi Jirga for approval. Furthermore, Karzai has neatly excised himself from any blame for the situation by leaving the IEC with sole responsibility for the decision and fallout. The electoral process remains vulnerable to future political manipulation and the increasing tension between government entities and the protracted electoral drama continue to damage the credibility and efficacy of the government.
Paraag Shukla is a Senior Research Analyst at ISW.