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Karzai Has Alternates If Cabinet Picks Snubbed

Afghan parliamentarians at an assembly session on January 11 in Kabul, where lawmakers are debating the Afghan president's second list of nominees.
KABUL (Reuters) -- Afghan President Hamid Karzai has a third list of cabinet nominees ready to replace any who might be rejected by parliament, which votes this week on a second list after vetoing most of his first choices, a spokesman said.

Lawmakers inflicted a heavy political blow on Karzai early this month when they rejected more than two thirds of his candidates for the cabinet, prolonging a period of months of political uncertainty after a presidential poll last August.

Today, parliamentarians held the second of four planned days of hearings to grill Karzai's replacement candidates, most of whom were announced on January 9.

The new list excludes ex-guerrilla chiefs and their allies whose presence in the original list troubled many of Karzai's critics at home and abroad.

However, parliamentarians and diplomats have said they were disappointed by the new list because of the presence of a large number of little-known figures and others who were removed from the government in the past.

Some lawmakers said only a handful of the nominees would win a vote of confidence.

Karzai is keen to have the cabinet approved in time for an international conference on Afghanistan's future in London on January 27. Spokesman Waheed Omer said Karzai had third choices ready in case parliament rejects names on the second list.

"We have a number of new faces in the new cabinet, and we are certain that when parliament finds out information about their background and hears their plans, it will vote in total for all of them," said Omer, Karzai's chief spokesman.

"But we are ready if a portion of the cabinet...whatever number, is rejected by the parliament," he told a news briefing.

Karzai has yet to introduce his nominee for energy and water minister, and had to replace his choice for the commerce post after the man he had proposed, living in Canada, refused to join the government.

His candidates for seven key posts such as Defense, Interior and Finance, were approved by the parliament early this month in the initial list. Most of them were incumbents favored by Western donors.

The new list includes a record three female ministers, hailed as a positive change.

Karzai has been pressed by the West to sideline former guerrilla chiefs, but is also under pressure to offer positions to powerful regional bosses who supported his re-election, in order to limit opposition while facing a resurgent Taliban.

Appointing a new cabinet is the first major postelection test for Karzai, Afghanistan's leader since 2001, whose reputation in the West was dented by his fraud-marred path to victory in last year's presidential election.

A UN-backed probe found nearly a third of Karzai's votes in the August 20 poll were fake, forcing election officials to call a second round, which was canceled after Karzai's challenger quit.