Published on 18 Aug 2011 at 11:20
Many hope that a new decree by President Hamid Karzai could signal a compromise to end the long-simmering dispute between the legislature and the executive over the results of last September’s Parliamentary elections. But others are equally convinced that the lack of a clear legal ruling will just add to the conflict.
It has now been 11 months since the Parliamentary elections, but Afghanistan is further than ever from having a legitimate, functioning legislature. A bitter struggle with the executive over fraud allegations has all but paralyzed the Parliament, while internal divisions have kept it from being able to act as one body. A decree issued last week by President Hamid Karzai seemed to be aimed at resolving the dispute, but lawmakers are refusing to accept it, mounting a protest that could catapult the country into a new political crisis.
Few would argue that last September’s parliamentary ballot was ideal: there were numerous reports of fraud and intimidation, security issues that kept whole districts from voting, and technical problems with ballot papers and the “indelible” ink that had some people unable to vote while others cast multiple ballots.
The Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC), the body charged with adjudicating electoral disputes, was deluged with allegations of fraud. It took weeks to try to comb through more than 6,000 complaints, but final results were announced by the Independent Election Commission (IEC), on October 31, 2010.
As far as the IEC and the ECC were concerned, matters should have ended there. But the president and the Attorney General professed themselves dissatisfied with the results, and in December Karzai instituted a Special Court to look into fraud in the September poll. For months the Parliament worked under a cloud, fearing that any false step could bring individual lawmakers to the attention of the Court.
International bodies and Afghan legal exerts warned that the Court had no legal standing, since by law the IEC and the ECC are charged with adjudicating election results. Parliamentarians threatened strikes and mass protests if the Court was not disbanded.
The Court issued its ruling on June 23, according to which as many as a quarter of the 249-member Parliament could have been excluded. The 62 losing candidates who stood to gain a seat in Parliament rejoiced, but the Parliament, the IEC and ECC, as well as many international experts, worried at the signal being sent by the executive branch: the president stands above the law, and can intervene whenever and wherever he sees fit.
Fazil Ahamd Manawi, the head of the IEC
Finally, on August 10, Karzai issued a decree disbanding the Court and calling on the IEC to make a final decision. Welcomed by some as a compromise designed to put an end to the crisis, others see it as just another attempt by the president to impose his will on the legislature. The IEC, they say, is under pressure from the executive branch to exclude some Parliamentarians, while preserving the letter of the law.
A majority of Parliamentarians have refused to accept the decree; approximately 200 lawmakers have been protesting since August 11, warning that any attempt to change the composition of the Parliament would involve a serious political crisis.
The organizers of the protest, the Coalition for the Support of the Rule of Law [a parliamentarian’s working group], say that they will take their complaints straight to the Arg, or presidential palace, and will force the president to resign if he proceeds along this path.
One thing that has the lawmakers worried is a shift in the position of the IEC following Karzai’s decree. Previously, the IEC had been adamant that the election file was closed and the Special Court was illegal. But now the IEC chairman, Fazal Ahmad Manawi, seems prepared to go along with the president.
we are worried about recent remarks by Mr. Manawi, the head of the IEC. He claims that he is under pressure by the government to bring changes in the current composition of the Parliament.
“There are some positive points in President Karzai’s decree, including that the IEC should obey the Election Law to end the current election crisis,” said Mohammad Rafiq Shahir, an MP from Herat province and member of the Coalition for the Support of the Rule of Law. “But we are worried about recent remarks by Mr. Manawi, the head of the IEC. He claims that he is under pressure by the government to bring changes in the current composition of the Parliament.”
Manawi, however, denies any type of pressure or threats from the government.
“President Karzai’s decree showed that the judiciary branch’s intervention or institution of the Special Court is not the key to solving the electoral crisis,” he said. “Any decision with respect to elections is within the authority of the IEC. We are reviewing the presidential decree to end this crisis in accordance with the law.
“The IEC will possibly bring changes if it finds that someone came to the Parliament by fraudulent votes or someone else’s rights have been violated,” he added.
But Ahmadzai Rafaat, spokesperson for the Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC), says that nobody has the right to change the final results of the 2010 Parliamentary elections.
“According to the law, nobody, even the IEC itself, has the right to change the final results of the elections after the ECC has adjudicated the election complaints and the IEC has announced the final results,” he said. “Any action relating to the elections taken so far, including the institution of the Special Court, is illegal. It is against the Constitution if the IEC brings changes in the current composition of the legislature under pressure from the government.
“The IEC has always insisted that the decision on the elections results was final and no change was acceptable. But after the presidential decree, which authorized the IEC to take the final decision about the results, Mr. Manawi said indirectly that we should adjudicate the complaints once again to ensure justice if something wrong has happened. This means that the IEC wants to bring changes in the Parliament.”
Rafaat believes that, according to the Electoral Law, it is within the authority and responsibility of the ECC to adjudicate election-related complaints. The ECC has already done its job and nobody has the right to redo the process.
MP Shahir said that the MPs are not protesting the presidential decree, nor are they worried about bringing changes in the Parliament, since nobody has the right to disqualify or exclude the people’s representatives from the house of people. Instead, he added, the lawmakers were demanding that the government consider their legal demands and implement decisions made by the legislature.
Perhaps most glaring in this regard is the fact that, more than 20 months after taking office, Karzai still does not have a confirmed Cabinet. Seven of his 25 ministers are serving in an acting capacity, having been rejected twice by the legislature. This is a clear violation of the law, say Parliamentarians.
“We will continue to protest until the abovementioned actions of the executive are corrected, and our prestige is reinstated,” added Shahir.
The IEC will possibly bring changes if it finds that someone came to the Parliament by fraudulent votes or someone else’s rights have been violated.
The 62 losing candidates who were announced as winners by the Special Court on June 23 have a different position. Understandably, they are asking that the Special Court’s decision be implemented. They say that the president should have simply ordered the IEC to enact the Court’s final decision without any changes.
“Nobody has the right to ignore or change the Special Court’s final decision,” said Abdul Shokor Waqaf Hakimi, from Badakhshan, who had been declared a winner by the Special Court. “This is a final decision and the president should have ordered the IEC to put this in practice, nothing else.”
But the IEC calls any intervention by the judiciary and other bodies illegal, and insists that the Special Court’s adjudication process was flawed.
Still, the IEC is talking about yet another round of adjudication, and, in contrast to its previous position, is acknowledging the possibility of bringing changes to the final results of the 2010 elections.
But they will have a fight on their hands if they do so.
On Saturday, August 13, the legislature adopted a resolution with an absolute majority, saying that any change in the Parliament would be against the law. They warned the IEC of very serious consequences if it attempted to bring any changes in the composition of the legislature.
Rather than resolving the election crisis, the presidential decree seems to have opened a new chapter in the long-running crisis.
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