After the grand inauguration of Afghanistan’s first post-Taliban parliament in 2005, when an emotional Karzai was reduced to tears, things have been going downhill for Afghanistan’s legislature. Seen variously over the years as ineffective, lacking power and a rubber stamp for Karzai, the parliament has trouble getting to function after its second inauguration.
The second parliament has so far been characterized by political confrontations, legal dilemmas, and physical fights.
Karzai didn’t fully end his long stand-off with MPs after he inaugurated Wolesi Jirga, or the lower house. The legally controversial special court he established to investigate allegations of fraud implicated three sitting members of parliament. Although no one knows what the special court’s investigation might conclude, and what impact that might have on the now-seated MPs, the existence of this special court is still a sore spot between Karzai and the Wolesi Jirga.
Having fought Karzai to get inaugurated, the MPs are now fighting (literally) each other on who should run for speaker. After the two leading MPs — former speaker Qanooni and Karzai ally Sayyaf — failed to garner the 50%+1 votes required to secure speakership, Wolesi Jirga rules dictated that other candidates run for the position. However, a controversy erupted over “white votes,” ballots cast by MPs to signify their abstention. The logic went thus: If it weren’t for the white votes the House would have had a speaker by now, so MPs shouldn’t cast white ballots.
It took the Wolesi Jirga significant debate and deliberation to agree that abstention is a perfectly democratic way of exercising the right to vote. Thus, the bigwigs — Qanooni and Sayyaf — have agreed to step back and let “fresh faces” run for the prized seat. So far, about 10 such faces have declared their intentions of running. None of them has the requisite influence to win a majority, so the haggling process is set to continue into the future.
The Senate, or the Meshrano Jirga, has had its own share of shenanigans: It proceeded to elect its chair, deputy chair, clerk and deputy clerk after Karzai delayed the appointment of one-thirds of the chamber’s members. According to the Afghan Constitution, 34 of the Senate’s 102 members are appointed by the president.
The Constitutional Implementation and Oversight Commission, the go-to body for such matters, has declared the Senate’s actions unconstitutional — not because the election process was conducted without one-thirds of the members of the body, but because of an issue with members’ term lengths.
The new Senate officials were ‘elected’ after the tenure of Sibghatullah Mujaddedi, Karzai ally and appointee, came to an end. So in effect, the senators have not only created a constitutional question, but also denied Karzai a shot at getting an ally elected, thus bruising the Senate’s relations with the president.
As a result, Karzai is now left with battles with the legislature on two fronts: the Wolesi Jirga and the Mishrano Jirga. It will likely be a rocky second term for him.
The establishment of democracy and the rule of law takes time in any country. A certain evolutionary period is required for parliamentary traditions to develop and become respected, for laws to become clearly interpreted and for the warlords to learn to fight with with words rather than physical force.
Compared with the orderly start of the first parliament, the rocky beginning of the second is a step backwards. The parliament is going through a critical period, one that can determine whether or not the right traditions and the respect for supremacy of law are established.