Afghan Lawmakers Reject Most Cabinet Appointees
MARY LOUISE KELLY, host:
Welcome back to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Mary Louise Kelly.
Political intrigue in Afghanistan today, the parliament rejected more than two-thirds of President Hamid Karzai's cabinet nominees. Only seven of his choices were approved. Among them, the current interior, defense and finance ministers, all of whom are supported by Afghanistan's international partners, especially the United States.
NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson has been tracking developments in Kabul.
And, Soraya, welcome to the show.
SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON: Hi. How are you, Mary Louise?
KELLY: Hi. We're great here. Thank you. So tell us what exactly happened there today.
NELSON: Well, you have to picture the slowest vote counting process in history at least that I've experienced. I mean, all day long, you had members of parliament filling out pieces of paper, sending them forward and then they were all counted by hand, basically. So this process took all day long. And at the end of it, 17 out of 24 nominees that President Hamid Karzai had put forward were rejected. I mean, this was such a resounding blow for him. And among the people who were rejected were the sole female nominee for the Women's Affairs Ministry, as well as Ismail Khan, who is a former warlord and currently heads the power and water ministry.
KELLY: And was this unexpected? I mean, what were the lawmaker's objections to the picks that President Karzai had settled on?
NELSON: Well, certainly, I think this reflects a lot upon the relationship between President Karzai and parliament, which has been very difficult and has gotten worse as time has gone on. I mean, the people in parliament feel that Mr. Karzai plays too much to warlords, that he plays too much to the ethnic factor, in other words, to his ethnic Pashtun factor. And also, they felt that there was a reflection of bribery and corruption here in the nominees.
What was interesting, though, is that most of the ministers that were approved, in fact, were people that the West supported, including the defense minister and interior minister.
KELLY: And how big a setback will this be for President Karzai?
NELSON: Well, certainly, politically, this is embarrassing for him. But I think there's a - in the bigger picture, this is also very bad for Afghanistan because this is certainly a year where there has to be significant progress in getting the government connected to the people and providing services and making sure that there's local governance - 80 percent of the people live in rural areas and they really need - have no sense of their government. And having this delay go on is going to make it difficult to do any of the things that are needed to bring people back into a hopeful situation and to get them to be connected to their government.
KELLY: And does he have to start from scratch now, Soraya, put together another slate of names? I mean, how long might this delay go on?
NELSON: This - there is no indication yet as to when he's going to bring forth new nominees or when the parliament might actually vote on it. They were supposed to go into winter recess, so that could delay things even further. And certainly, this schism, this separation that exists between the two sides here - President Karzai's government, as well as the parliament - I mean, this is going to require some repair because it's unlikely that other candidates will get quickly approved.
KELLY: And meanwhile, I understand that they have now set a date for parliamentary elections.
NELSON: Yes. The Independent Election Commission came out today and said May 22 is the date that is constitutionally mandated to hold these parliamentary elections. They've also asked for $50 million from the Western community to be able to hold these elections. They do have some leftover money from the last election - about 70 million, but they need extra, so they're going to be asking. But this is really seen as an opening salvo. I mean, it's not - the debate is not over here because the West really does not want elections held, given the security situation, given the vast amount of fraud that existed last time. But at this stage, the election has been announced for May 22.
KELLY: I presume if last year's presidential elections are any indication, they're going to have a lot of work cut out for them to make these go smoothly.
KELLY: NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson in Kabul.
NELSON: You're welcome.
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