Afghan President Hamid Karzai has made his move, ordering the Afghan Independent Election Commission (IEC) to "immediately finalize" the controversial results of last year's parliamentary polls.
Instead of breaking a political deadlock over more than 60 seats in the lower house of parliament, the Wolesi Jirga, however, the president appears to have muddied the waters.
The Afghan election body, lawmakers, political factions, media, and legal experts are divided over the interpretation of the August 10 decree.
The 62 candidates who were granted parliamentary seats after a special election tribunal overturned the initial results of the September 2010 election have welcomed the order, taking it as a sign that they will finally be sworn in as members of the lower house. They have gone so far as to characterize the decree as a victory for the rule of law in Afghanistan.
A sizeable number of sitting lawmakers -- a group that has served as a wedge between parliament and the presidential administration by stalling cabinet confirmations and legislation as the crisis has played out -- have a vastly different interpretation. They too are touting Kazai's order as a victory, predicting that the election commission will now validate its initial results.
IEC Welcomes Decree
Meanwhile, IEC head Fazal Ahmad Manawi is also taking the situation as a win. He has welcomed the Karzai decree, saying it backs his stance that the IEC has the last say in all matters related to the elections.
"The high court called on the president to take steps to resolve the problem," Manawi said. "And the president called on the election commission to take steps in the light of the constitution and the election laws."
IEC head Fazil Ahmad Manawi was against the creation of a special tribunal.
Manawi openly opposed the president's creation of the special election tribunal amid claims of fraud that emerged after the results were released.
International media reports have suggested that the IEC now intends to consider just 17 cases of alleged election fraud.
Such an outcome would hint at the possibility for a compromise that would placate Karzai by allowing some of the candidates he backs to retain their seats, but is far from the radical overhaul of the parliament recommended by the special election tribunal.
'This Is The Law'
What is clear is that the president's new course is fraught with risk. Supporters of the 62 candidates declared winners by the tribunal are unlikely to stay silent if they are unable to join the parliament.
Daud Sultanzoi, a leading member of the group of 62, told RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan he welcomed Karzai's decree, and called on the IEC to implement the special tribunal's decision.
Sultanzoi said that the fact that it's called the "Independent Election Commission" doesn't mean that it's above Afghan laws and institutions.
"The court decision is a binding and enforced by Islamic [Shari'a] law. Nobody can defy the injunctions sanctified by the law," Sultanzoi said. "If they stand in the way of implementing this decision they will be considered 'mutamarid' [defying Islamic principles]. We all know that what Shari'a prescribes for dealing with such people."
Sitting Members Unhappy
Speaking at a stormy parliament session on August 10, sitting members threatened to boycott parliament if the IEC moves to implement the tribunal's decision. They warned of an unsolvable crisis if some members are forced out of the Wolesi Jirga.
Lawmaker Yunos Qanuni decried it as "part of a deliberate plan to foment a crisis in Afghanistan that will pave the way for a power grab after the 2013 elections."
While the two sides invoke the constitution and the rule of law, observers in Kabul see it as unending wrangling between strongmen and the political factions they control. They suggest that the eventual IEC results would not placate all sides, but might ensure that powerful interests of the pro- and anti-Karzai camps are accommodated.
written by Abubakar Siddique, with reporting by RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan