KABUL: President Hamid Karzai on Wednesday declared Afghanistan’s lower house of parliament open after days of tussles that pitted the US-backed leader against lawmakers.
The opening of Afghanistan’s parliament ended a week-long stand-off of Karzai with the newly elected MPs who had threatened to inaugurate the legislature with or without him.
The ceremony held in a national assembly compound comes four months after the country held its second post-Taliban parliamentary elections, the results of which have met with massive controversy over claims of widespread fraud.
Karzai had conceded Tuesday that he would inaugurate the Wolesi Jirga — the lower house — following pressure from the UN and the US, but lashed out at interference by “foreign hands”.
The embattled president had previously said he would delay the opening of parliament for a month to allow time for a special tribunal to investigate claims of irregularities in September’s vote for the chamber.
“Some foreign hands questioned our decisions and started instigation to create crises in our country,” Karzai said, according to a statement from his office. They “kept provoking candidates (winning MPs) that they should inaugurate the parliament without the president’s participation and that we will support you,” the statement quoted the president saying.
Karzai has so far refused to endorse results from the fraud-marred poll and despite agreeing to open the legislature he insists that the special tribunal he created to adjudicate claims of irregularities should stand.
Twenty-four early winners were disqualified, a quarter of the five million ballots cast thrown out, and there were fewer wins than expected for the majority ethnic Pashtuns in the disputed vote four months ago. Winning candidates say only regular Afghan courts can lawfully rule on fraud claims and had threatened to convene the parliament without Karzai.
The situation is being watched closely by the international community in Kabul – 2011 is a key year for the war-torn country, with foreign troops due to start a limited withdrawal in July.
The US, UN and EU have all welcomed Karzai’s decision to relent and open parliament on Wednesday. But losing candidates continue to call for a delay until the special tribunal has issued its ruling.
Former MP Daud Sultanzai accused foreign embassies and the UN of pulling the strings of the Afghan government. “Are we living in an Afghanistan that belongs to the Afghan people or to the (UN) and foreign embassies,” he said.
Karzai defended his U-turn and his insistence that the tribunal will stand. “To save the country from foreign interference and crisis we decided to meet with the winning candidates and make them acknowledge that after the inauguration of the parliament they need to accept the ruling of the… court,” said his statement.
He claimed that winning MPs had given him a written acceptance that they will acknowledge the decisions of the court. But victorious MPs said Karzai’s tribunal is unlawful and regular Afghan courts, where lawmakers may have immunity, must handle outstanding claims of election irregularities.
“It is good news for the people of Afghanistan that the national assembly will be inaugurated Wednesday,” leading politician Alemi Balkhi told AFP.
But an “absolute majority of the MPs say that the special tribunal is unconstitutional and its verdicts will not be recognised by the elected representatives of the people.”