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Karzai's small list prompts change in JirgaWritten by Mohammad Reza Gulkohi and Abubakr Jabarkhail
Saturday, 23 April 2011 10:34
In an unexpected move MPs in the Wolesi Jirga amended their internal procedures enabling the president to re-nominate the rejected ministerial nominees for the same ministry until approved by the parliament.
According to the constitution all ministers, the Attorney General and the Chief Justice should be nominated by the president and approved by a majority of MPs in the Wolesi Jirga, lower house of the Afghan bicameral National Assembly. Until last week, article 76 of the Wolesi Jirga's internal procedure was clear: once rejected a ministerial nominee cannot be re-nominated for the same ministry. On 13 April with 125 votes this was changed to: the president can re-nominate a rejected ministerial nominee for the same ministry for parliamentary approval. Such flexibility does not even exist for the MPs who run for the Speaker's position and fail to acquire the required approving votes.
"This is an insult to the nation," said Ramazan Bashardost, an outspoken MP from Kabul. "In this country the president has got about 500 names from 10 families in his list for minister, governor, ambassador and other senior positions."
Over half of the 24 ministerial nominees that President Karzai introduced to the former Wolesi Jirga in 2010 were rejected and Mr. Karzai was forced to re-nominate the rejected nominees for other ministries. All seven of the current acting ministers (public health, higher education, telecommunication, women's affairs, water and energy, transport and urban development) who were rejected by the Wolesi Jirga in 2010 are now eligible for re-nomination, according to the amended procedures.
"I swear to God and can prove that there are more competent people working in the ministries which are run by acting ministers but they are ostracized due to the rampant cronyism in the government," alleged MP Bashardost. A handful of MPs like Mr. Bashardost, who voted against the amendment, accuse their fellow backbenchers, who voted for the dramatic change, of surrendering to the Executive and of forgetting their national responsibilities.
However, those who voted for the change think otherwise.
"Without the amendment sensitivities between the Executive and the Legislative could have intensified," said Mohammad Arif Rahmani, an MP, adding that the president was particularly willing to keep certain figures in his cabinet.
When rejected for one ministry, the president had a track record of keeping his nominees as acting ministers or nominating them in other ministries. "We just want to simply the procedures and also prevent ministries to be run by acting ministers indefinitely," said Rahmani.
A trapped president
Meanwhile, some experts say that President Karzai has been trapped in a small circle of traditional powerbrokers who were installed in key positions at the Bonn Conference in December 2001. Under the the United Nations the Bonn Conference was a key decision-making event in which the post-Taliban political and governing system and its key elements were identified and appointed. Despite widespread criticisms about rampant corruption and inefficacies in his government, Mr. Karzai has largely refused to bring meaningful and radical changes in his administration over the past ten years.
"The distribution of political power at the Bonn Conference was in fact a kind of infidelity," said Ghulam Jillani Zwak, director of the center for regional studies in Kabul. In Mr. Zwak's view, since the Bonn Conference the government has been monopolized by a handful of powerbrokers who allege to be representing different ethnic and political groups.
"Re-nomination of the rejected ministerial nominees would imply that we are facing a dearth of people to run the government," said Asghar Ashraq, a journalist, calling the newly-adopted procedure as unacceptable.
Others are pointing to a political "mafia" group which has allegedly dominated the post-Taliban political order in the country.
"The government has been systematically besieged by a circle of mafia which has consolidated its grip on the power and is unwilling to allow outsiders join the government," said Fazlu Rahman Oria, a political commentator.
More worrying is the intrusion of the alleged political mafia into the legislative branch and their ability to change the laws to their favour. The current National Assembly already has a tarnished credibility in the eyes of many Afghans who point to the prevalent fraud and vote rigging during the 2010 parliamentary elections. Their decision to accept rejected ministerial nominees is believed to be unpopular and considered as a kind of political compromise with President Karzai who has set up a Special Election Court to further investigate cases of electoral fraud by the sitting MPs.
"If MPs abuse their voting power as enshrined in the constitution for their personal and factional interests, they would not only further alienate themselves from the people but would also contribute to the looming political crisis in the country," said Sayed Jawad Husseini, a political analyst.