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Karzai To Submit New Cabinet Choices

Afghan President Hamid Karzai

Afghan President Hamid Karzai

(RFE/RL) -- Afghan President Hamid Karzai "will submit new nominees for his new cabinet within the next few days," presidential spokesman Ahmad Ziya Siyamak said hours after the parliament rejected most of Karzai's candidates.

In secret voting that followed a lengthy discussion on January 2, Afghan lawmakers turned down 17 out of Karzai's 24 nominees for his new cabinet, including the only woman candidate and a well-known warlord.

Candidates for the Commerce, Economy, Justice, and Health ministries were among those rejected.

Hosnbanu Ghazanfar, the president's choice for the Women's Affairs Ministry, and Mohammad Ismail Khan, the Energy Ministry nominee, were also not approved by the parliament.

Call For New Blood

The president had sought to keep 12 members of his old team, but the parliament approved only five of them, including Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak, Interior Minister Hanif Atmar, and Finance Minister Omar Zakhilwal.

Lawmakers said that Karzai’s list of nominees looked liked his old cabinet, and they called for new blood in the team.

"Ordinary Afghans too want new, clean people," a Kabul-based political analyst Wahid Mozhda tells RFE/RL.

Karzai has come under severe criticism for alleged widespread corruption among officials, and his Western donors have demanded the president root out graft.

"People say, 'If Mr. Karzai is really willing to eliminate corruption, then why does he want to retain those who were in his team for five or eight years and most of them were accused of corruption,'" Mozhda says.

"And these people were the reason why corruption in government agencies has emerged in Afghanistan."

Lawmakers have criticized Karzai for choosing some of the nominees for the wrong reasons -- such as their ethnicity or picking those who supported him during the 2009 presidential campaign.

Karzai has secured a second term in office despite a quarter of the votes in last year's presidential election being officially invalidated amid massive fraud allegations.
An Afghan parliamentarian votes on the proposed cabinet

Parliament's rejection of most of Karzai's nominees is seen by many Afghans as a serious blow for the president.

New Candidates

Analyst Mozhda, however, says parliament's decision paves the way for Karzai to pick a new team based on candidates' competency.

"Now, Karzai can tell his supporters that 'I nominated you for top jobs, but parliament has rejected it, there's nothing I can do,'" he says.

It was expected that Karzai would try to finalize his cabinet before a key international conference on Afghanistan that takes place in London on January 28.

The position of foreign minister will not be filled until after the conference.

But it remains unclear when Karzai will submit a new list of candidates for the cabinet.

Afghanistan's parliament was scheduled to break for a 45-day vacation on January 5.

Spokesman Siyamak initially said Karzai would prepare the new list quickly but that "it depends on whether the lawmakers would be willing to postpone their vacation" to vote on the new cabinet.

Then on January 4, the president issued a decree ordering the parliament to suspend its winter break in order to vet and vote on a list of cabinet nominees that would be forthcoming "in several days."

Meanwhile, the head of the United Nations mission in Afghanistan today said the parliament's decision is a political setback at a difficult time.

Kai Eide called the rejections a "distraction" at a time when Afghanistan and the international community are trying to focus on urgently needed reforms.

Eide told reporters that Karzai now will have to spend political energy nominating new choices, prolonging the time before a functioning government can be a partner to donor nations.

RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan contributed to this report