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Afghan Parliament To Reconvene To Consider New Cabinet Nominees

  • Abubakar Siddique

Afghan parliament members vote on the cabinet nominees in Kabul on January 2.

Afghan parliament members vote on the cabinet nominees in Kabul on January 2.

Respecting an order from President Hamid Karzai, Afghan lawmakers will delay taking their winter break until his new cabinet is approved.

Karzai issued the decree on January 4 after the parliament on January 2 rejected two-thirds of his 24 ministerial nominees.

The lack of parliamentary approval, coming just before legislators were expected to begin their annual six-week recess today, was widely seen as snub that could leave the country without a functioning government.

But Yunus Qanuni, speaker of the Wolesi Jirga (People’s Council), said today that the parliament's lower house plans to reconvene to consider 17 new names expected to be submitted by the president by the end of the week.

"From today we will go into a recess. But on the order of the president, we will convene on Saturday to debate the [remaining] cabinet names he will introduce," Qanuni said.

The parliament's rejection of most of Karzai's initial nominees has been portrayed as an opportunity for the president to introduce new faces to the government who are not tainted by ties to warlords or militias and are broadly acceptable to the electorate.

Karzai's nominees for some of the top ministerial posts -- including the defense, interior, finance, and agriculture ministries -- have been approved by the lower house, and are viewed as acceptable to Afghans and the international community alike. A nominee for foreign minister has yet to be proposed.

Ties To Warlords?

With the Afghan electorate and foreign donors looking for proof that the country is serious about combating corruption, the focus has fallen on the rejected nominees.

Reuters, for example, has cited an unidentified foreign diplomat as suggesting that Karzai's initial list included representatives of warlords, fueling concerns that some nominations appeared intended to reward political allies for their support during the presidential election campaign.

But insiders in Kabul, speaking to RFE/RL on condition of anonymity, suggest that as Karzai begins his second and last term in office, the president has little need to please domestic powerbrokers in order to remain in power.

In recent months Karzai's alliance with warlords and other strongmen has led to confrontation with his Western allies, who have come to resent the dominant role such domestic powerbrokers play in Afghan politics, despite initially supporting them as allies against the Taliban and Al-Qaeda.

Lawmaker Kabir Ranjbar, who represents Kabul in the parliament, tells RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan that lawmakers are likely to reject any new nominees tied to the warlords.

"The president has complete power over what kind of people he introduces [to the parliament] and the principles and values he would base their nomination upon,” Ranjbar said. “I am sure that their majority will once again be rejected if their nomination is based on power-sharing and rewarding the warlords and factions who supported the president during the election."

Presidential spokesman Siyamak Herawi tells RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan that Karzai will forward new nominations by the end of this week.

"The president is working hard on compiling the remainder of the new cabinet,” Herawi said. “It is possible that he will send the new list to the parliament on Saturday or Sunday, so that they can get a vote of confidence."

Herawi said a foreign minister will be appointed following a major Afghan conference that is to take place in London later this month.

Afghan media is rife with speculation that Karzai could opt to reintroduce some of the cabinet members rejected by the parliament, possibly for other posts.

Amirzai Sangin, who the parliament rejected for the post of telecommunications minister, told RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan that he remains committed to working for his country in any capacity.

"This is our country and we love it. I work for my homeland. Even if I am not the telecommunications minister, I am ready to work in any position considered significant by the president,” Sangin said. “What is important for me is to continue working and to use my potential to serve my country."

The Afghan people will be watching closely to see if their wishes for meaningful reforms are met, or if the continued factional wrangling over the new cabinet is a sign of things to come.

RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan correspondents Norias Nori and Ajmal Toorman contributed reporting from Prague and Kabul.