Published on 05 Jul 2011 at 09:43
In an interview with www.bamdad.af, Mr. Mohammad Arif Rahmani, Member of Afghanistan’s Lower House of Parliament from Ghazni Province, discusses the challenges and reasons of parliament weak performance.
Why, in your opinion, has the Parliament been isolated and why does the government ignore Parliament’s demands?
There are several reasons for this. First is the nature of politics in Afghanistan, which does not allow for criticism, monitoring, or correction. We are heading towards despotism. Even though we are now practicing democracy, despotism still exists in the minds of the politicians in power.
This is why the government will never tolerate an active and critical Parliament that could serve as a check on the balance of power. Power in Afghanistan has always been autocratic in nature. One of the main reasons for keeping the Parliament isolated, therefore, is this despotic, anti-democratic system in Afghanistan.
The second reason lies within the Parliament itself. We have a fractured legislature with no party system. The Parliament is unable to come to a unified opinion or to act jointly. In addition, there are many Members of Parliament (MPs) who work on behalf of the government rather than for the best interests of the people.
These MPs obey the government’s orders, doing whatever is asked without question. They have little knowledge of how a Parliament is supposed to function and are of no use to the legislature. On the other hand, those who are critical of the government are facing different pressures, which hinder their voice.
All of this, combined with the ethnic conflicts in Parliament, has resulted in a legislature that is passive and isolated.
The government has tried its best to keep the Parliament from becoming too assertive.
We had a meeting with First Vice President Marshal Mohammad Qasim Fahim, who said that President Karzai was afraid of the Parliament at the beginning. But now that fear has disappeared.
Fahim quoted the president as saying, “What kind of a Parliament is this? It is good and ‘bab-e-dandan’ [a Dari expression meaning ‘easy to chew’]. We were wrong to be afraid of such a Parliament.”
Now any time the president wants to, he talks with the Speaker of Parliament, Abdul Rauf Ibrahimi, who accepts whatever Karzai says.
You mentioned that many MPs follow the government’s demands. Among current MPs, would you say that the number of the government’s followers is larger than the number of its critics? How do these internal tensions affect the Parliament?
Parliamentary officials, headed by the Speaker, function like a governmental sub-office when dealing with the executive branch. The MPs have consistently asked Mr. Ibrahimi to act as the head of an independent branch of government equal to the President. Unfortunately, however, he acts more like a minister’s secretary. This has damaged Parliament’s prestige and decreased its power.
Regarding the numbers of followers and critics, I would say that there are many MPs who disagree with the government’s actions. But, the government has been putting pressure on them in various ways, including the “Special Court,” in order to cut down on criticism.
Are the MPs really afraid of the Special Court?
Yes, they really are afraid of the Special Court. MPs fear they might be excluded from the Parliament if they stand against the government. The government is also trying to keep some MPs silent by giving them money.
What role does all of this play in keeping the Parliament passive?
A number of MPs have obviously been acquiescing with the government. The government uses both money and political pressure against the Parliament. If an MP is not ready to accept certain privileges, such as money or other advantages in return for cooperation, then he or she may be threatened by the Special Court.
The Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs, which provides MPs with bodyguards and houses, has been lobbying in Parliament in favor of the executive branch. Some MPs are supported by the government; they receive $2,000 per month. These combined efforts have weakened the role of critics inside Parliament.
Why do MPs not use their legal authority to put pressure on the executive branch?
President Karzai acts as if he is above the law. The various means of holding the President accountable which are mentioned in the Constitution, such as a Loya Jirga or a Special Court, cannot be used at the moment. Based on the Constitution, the majority of Loya Jirga members should be composed of district council heads.
But, the government has not yet conducted district council elections. Therefore, the Parliament is facing a Constitutional deadlock. The President makes use of the situation and does whatever he wants.
It is within the Parliament’s authority to summon the Attorney General, but because of the current political situation, it is the Attorney General who summons the Parliament. The Attorney General recently issued a directive that, based on the Civil Service Law, any MP who is absent for more than 20 days should be excluded from Parliament and a new MP shall take his or her seat.
This means that the Attorney General views the Parliament as a extension of executive branch. Even though he [the Attorney General] knows that this directive is against the Constitution, he allowed himself to insult the legislature.
You mentioned that the executive branch ignores the Parliament’s decisions and the Attorney General insults it. What does it mean to have a Parliament that is unable to monitor the government’s activities?
Even though the government is deaf to the Parliament and is not willing to bring reforms, the Parliament must work to institutionalize democracy.
Is it not a good thing to have people in Parliament who are willing to criticize the government’s illegal actions? If MPs all quit or remain silent, then the government can do anything it wants.
It is true that the legislature is weak. But, once the government disbands the Special Court it will no longer be able to ignore Parliament’s decisions. The Attorney General will not be able to insult the legislature.
Then the Parliament can use its powers to monitor the executive branch; to place pressure on it to correct its illegal actions.
Those who remain silent out of fear of the Special Court will be able to voice their criticism of the government.
The government will be more willing to heed our demands when the legislature acts jointly as a credible balance of power to the executive branch.
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