January 22nd, 2011
09:08 AM ET

Afghan lawmakers meet as political standoff over parliament continues

Afghan lawmakers met at a hotel in the country's capital Saturday morning to discuss whether to proceed with the inauguration of parliament despite President Hamid Karzai's decision to postpone the ceremony.

Most of the 249 elected members of parliament debated the issue at Kabul's Intercontinental Hotel. They were expected to meet with Karzai later in the day and could also make a decision Saturday.

Karzai's office on Wednesday announced a one-month inauguration delay, saying that the special court on election fraud needed more time to investigate complaints from losing candidates. The decision drew criticism from the United Nations' mission in Afghanistan, and concern from analysts that it could spark ethnic divisions and more violence.

"The security situation has obviously deteriorated over the last year, but this conflict between the president and parliament has really heightened tensions to the extreme. If there is no resolution today...there is a possibility of violence tomorrow," said Candace Rondeaux, a senior Afghan analyst for the International Crisis Group.

Abdul Hafiz Mansour, a member of parliament, said Sunday would mark a turning point in Afghanistan.

"Tomorrow we will inaugurate parliament even if it costs us our lives. Tomorrow is the day that will determine if democracy will remain in Afghanistan, or if it will change into a dictatorship," he said.

On Thursday, most of the elected members of parliament met in Kabul and announced they would likely go ahead with the inauguration without Karzai, saying a decision would be made Saturday.

Daud Sultanzai, a losing candidate from the volatile Ghazni province, said such a move would be unconstitutional.

"It's the government's job to stop lawlessness, especially a lawless entry into parliament," he said. "Parliament is a sacred place."

Fawzia Kofi, a member of the lower house of parliament, said Friday that "parliament will be inaugurated on Sunday under any circumstances," citing a constitutional law that if the president is not fulfilling his duties, then he is acting in violation of the law.

"According to the constitution, after both the IEC (Independent Election Commission) and the ECC (Electoral Complaints Commission) approved the results, the new parliament is now legitimate and has to start its work," Kofi said. "No other departments have the right to postpone or cancel the election results."

The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan said Friday it had "deep concern and surprise" about the inauguration delay and wants all parties to adhere to the country's constitution.

"Afghanistan's peaceful future lies in the building up of robust democratic institutions based on the rule of law and clear respect for the separation of powers," it said in a statement.

The Afghan Independent Election Commission certified the election results at the end of November after throwing out more than a million ballots from around 3,000 polling stations because of suspected fraud.

Last month, Karzai appointed a special court to launch its own investigation into about 400 cases of fraud.

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