Afghan lawmakers boycott to get Cabinet nominees

AP News
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Posted: Jun 14, 2011 3:57 PM
Afghan lawmakers boycott to get Cabinet nominees

The Afghan parliament is refusing to work, in protest against President Hamid Karzai's unwillingness to name more than a quarter of his Cabinet or three Supreme Court justices, hoping a boycott will persuade the leader.

In the down time at their idle offices, lawmakers are speculating over the 18-month delay in naming seven permanent ministers of his 25-member Cabinet. But as the protest entered its fourth day on Tuesday, its popularity _ never overwhelming to begin with _ began to fade and lawmakers trickled away for their vacation.

Gul Pacha Majidi, a second-term legislator from eastern Paktika province, said he suspects Karzai is locked in debate with his two vice presidents, but insists that's no excuse.

"I think there is some problem between Karzai and his vice presidents," Majidi said. "Today is the fourth day of silence, and unfortunately the president is ignoring the authority of parliament."

At least as likely a factor is parliament's rejection of some or all of three previous Cabinets proposed by Karzai after his election in 2009. At the time, lawmakers criticized Karzai for stacking his administration with political cronies without regard to qualifications.

Karzai's spokesman said the president is aware he needs to come up with new candidates, but he is preoccupied by other matters _ the Taliban insurgency and Afghanistan's struggling economy.

"We don't really see the urgency to do this," said the spokesman, Waheed Omer.

In western Afghanistan, a NATO service member was killed by an improvised bomb attack Tuesday. The international coalition did not provide any other information because relatives had not been notified.

Karzai has yet to name ministers of water and energy, women's affairs, urban development, transport and aviation, telecommunications and information technology, and higher education. Karzai is also expected to submit names for three supreme court justices who have reached their term limits.

The Afghan parliament postponed its scheduled summer recess for 15 days to press Karzai to submit nominees. Nothing came.

Karzai, a member of the Pashtun tribe, has said that one of his challenges as president is dividing political spoils among competing ethnic and tribal groups. But he has long had a testy relationship with the country's parliament, driven in large part by his outsized constitutional powers compared with the other branches of government.

"We have no authority," Majidi said. "The last option is that if the government doesn't listen, we will shut down the parliament and leave."

The protest started Saturday with backing from 127 out of 249 parliamentarians, said Shir Wali Wardak, a lawmaker from central Wardak province. By Tuesday, only about 75 were still protesting in their offices. Everyone else had left for vacation.

Wardak said the ministries still led by interim heads are accomplishing little.

"We don't have anything in the national constitution to allow the Cabinet to function in this way _ a minister cannot properly work if he has not been introduced to parliament," Wardak said. "He cannot simply remain in the position according to the constitution, he cannot approve big contracts, he cannot recruit for high positions."

The legislature has little recourse but to complain, Wardak said. If Karzai does not agree to put forward new nominees by Saturday the parliament will appeal to the international community, he said.

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AP writers Amir Shah and Ahmad Massieh Neshat contributed to this report.