Afghan president faces new hurdles as cabinet nominees rejected

Reuters News
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Posted: Jan 28, 2015 9:32 AM

By Mirwais Harooni and Jessica Donati

KABUL (Reuters) - Afghanistan's parliament dealt a new blow to President Ashraf Ghani's efforts to assemble a government on Wednesday, approving just eight out of 25 cabinet nominees before its winter recess.

Ghani, who took office in September promising dramatic reforms and greater transparency, must now wait until mid-March before introducing new candidates to the lower house.

The key positions of minister of the economy, defense and justice all remained vacant after the vote. The nomination of a central bank governor was also rejected by the lower house.

The lack of leadership at ministries is fueling instability at a critical time. The country is already struggling with a severe budget crisis, plummeting economic growth and a growing Taliban insurgency.

"Today, the voting process for the ministerial nominees has been completed and the budget for next year has been approved," lower house speaker Abdul Rauf Ibrahimi said. "The lower house will officially start its winter break tomorrow."

The finance ministry was among the positions approved and the spy chief was allowed to continue in his post. A statement from Ghani's office promised to introduce new candidates soon.

Part of Ghani's trouble producing a list of nominees has arisen from a need to agree on candidates with his rival-turned-partner, Abdullah Abdullah, who now has a prime minister-like post of chief executive.

The powerful vice president Abdul Rashid Dostum also holds sway over the process. Dostum was among those disappointed on Wednesday, after parliament rejected the nomination of one of his allies as minister of transport.

The vote also upset women's rights activists who had hoped to see more women represented under the new president.

Three instead of the promised four women were nominated to cabinet positions and by Wednesday just one remained on the list. She, too, was ultimately rejected.

"When I saw three females on the list I was unhappy ... but I am very sad in particular today because in the end, we got only one," parliamentarian Shukria Barakzai told Reuters ahead of the vote. "That has been the worst thing."

Allegations of corruption have also marred the process, with government and security officials accusing parliamentarians of taking bribes in exchange for votes.

Former president Hamid Karzai emerged as another loser on Wednesday, after the budget decision rejected his decree to continue paying over a hundred of his staff for five more years.

(Editing by Maria Golovnina, Larry King)