Election Dispute Deadlocks Afghan Government

Afghan parliamentarians are struggling to hold a unified line against what they see as an unconstitutional push by President Karzai to overturn 25 percent of last September's parliamentary elections. The continuing deadlock has tarnished all sides and exposed the fragility of Afghan democracy.

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In Afghanistan, President Obama's announcement of a gradual troop drawdown has raised questions yet again about that country's ability to stand on its own.

The latest flare-up came yesterday on live television, as the Afghanistan Parliament debated whether President Hamid Karzai should be impeached. The dispute became so heated that two female members of Parliament came to blows.

NPR's Quil Lawrence reports from Kabul.

QUIL LAWRENCE: Last September's parliamentary election saw widespread fraud and insurgent violence that prevented hundreds of polling stations from even opening their doors. After months of examining complaints, Afghanistan's two electoral bodies certified the results last winter.

But President Karzai, who would have lost allies in the Parliament, rejected the results, and created his own tribunal to hear the complaints again. Two weeks ago, the president's tribunal ordered 62 sitting MPs to be replaced with their runners-up. Yesterday, things got out of hand.

(Soundbite of crowd chatter)

LAWRENCE: As the Parliament debated a motion to impeach President Karzai for violating the constitution, one female lawmaker took off her shoe and flung it into the back of another female parliamentarian's head.

(Soundbite of crowd chatter)

LAWRENCE: She then threw herself on the woman, and it took a few moments for stunned lawmakers to pull them apart. The incident, broadcast nationwide on Afghan television, did little to encourage Afghans that their government will find a nonviolent, democratic path out of the deadlock that has essentially paralyzed normal functions of government all year.

Mohammed Jawadi is a former MP and political columnist.

Mr. MOHAMMED JAWADI (Political Columnist): (Through translator) If you look at it, it's created a perfect storm, where all the branches of the government are in a deadlock. And it's a perfect environment for the collapse of the government as a whole.

LAWRENCE: Jawadi lists them. The election dispute puts Parliament's legitimacy in question. Parliament has demanded the removal of several Supreme Court justices and the attorney general, who have ignored the legislature. President Karzai hasn't submitted any new ministers for Parliament's approval, and he is essentially ruling by decree.

All this as the U.S. has announced a drawdown over the next three years. As Parliament was throwing shoes, visiting British Prime Minister David Cameron announced a gradual British troop withdrawal. Standing calming at his side, President Karzai answered questions at a news conference.

President HAMID KARZI: (Foreign language spoken)

LAWRENCE: Regarding the problems with the parliamentary elections, Karzai said, I see it is a natural, growing democratic process in Afghanistan. He added that a solution would be found within the Afghan constitution.

But that's now how disputes have been settled here in the past, and several MPs have suggested already that if the president tries to remove the 62 members by force, their small army of bodyguards will resist.

With many seats held by former warlords and commanders from Afghanistan's civil war, that's no idle threat. Leaders of three factions from the civil war recently announced a political block against Karzai.

Mohammad Mohaqiq is one of them.

Mr. MOHAMMAD MOHAQIQ: (Foreign language spoken)

LAWRENCE: Mohaqiq said the anti-Karzai block will push to change Afghanistan's electoral system to strengthen political parties.

Mr. MOHAQIQ: (Foreign language spoken)

LAWRENCE: In the 1960s, Mohaqiq says, a similar flawed system led to a coup d'etat. When former warlords start talking about coups, Afghans get extremely worried. But Western diplomats say they think some sort of ad-hoc compromise will be announced over the Parliament dispute in the coming days.

MPs and Afghan observers are less assured.

Mr. JAWADI: (Foreign language spoken)

LAWRENCE: Mohammed Jawadi, the former MP, says Afghanistan once had at least the facade of democracy, but even that has fallen away.

Quil Lawrence, NPR News, Kabul.

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