Afghanistan’s New Parliament: Premonitions and Reality

May 5, 2006

Remember those exciting days in the run-up to the parliamentary elections in Afghanistan?
Remember when people were concerned about the parliament’s future make-up?
And about the infamous Single Non-Transferable Voting (SNTV) mechanism that prevented the emergence of viable political parties with real agenda, but that was insisted upon by the country’s Joint Electoral Management Body (JEMB) ?
And about the independence of the JEMB itself?
And about the process of vetting of candidates with histories of human rights abuses and other crimes?
And remember the embarassment that followed after the voting was over, resulting in weeks of delay in announcing the outcomes, and the dismissal of tens of election workers on charges of fraud and ballot-stuffing?
And remember when people were concerned about the disproportionate strength of the executive vis-a-vis the legislative branch, as laid out in the constitution?
Or about the fact that the new parliament would be a largely symbolic, ceremonial, rubber-stamp, weakened, divided, disorganized assembly of ragtags, warlords, political appointees, and other assorted scoundrels and incompetents?

Well, you don’t reckon those concerns probably meant…

1. That the new parliament would include in its make-up such criminal figures as those who oversaw the massacre of innocent civilians (as documented by the HRW), the indiscriminate shelling of the capital Kabul (as evidenced by one MP’s illustrious last name!), and the barbaric destruction of the Buddhas, as well as other ex-commanders, Taliban figures, and warlords. (Profile of an Infamous Member) and (more on this disappointment)

2. That the parliament would be strong-armed and then completely sidelined in its advise and consent role in cabinet appointments.
When the parliament objected to the position of a “senior minister” on constitutional grounds, the executive just shrugged it off and appointed the minister regardless. It even said that the senior position was open to the prerogatives of the president and that the advise and consent role of the parliament’s was irrelevant in this case! (more on this outrage)

3. That nobody would show up!
It seems that when I wrote a few days back about classes being cancelled on account of the ill-named National Education Day, it was not only the students who thought they had the day off. The speaker of the parliament forgot to tell the MPs that the parliament was in session, and so a mere 20 out of more than 350 MPs showed up to see the session cancelled and a crucial budgetary debate delayed. (more on this embarrassment)

It turns out those concerns were not so baseless after all. Some who just don’t give up on squeezing good PR juice out of it have likened the new parliament to a “newborn baby”. All indications seem to suggest to me that this one must be an awfuly grotesque newborn riddled with deformities.

And all of this, in its first few months…betcha ya ain’t heard the last of this baby!

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