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Afghan Parliament Opens

  • Ayaz Gul

Afghan President Hamid Karzai (C) shows respect to members of the new parliament after giving an oath in Kabul, Jan 26, 2011

Afghan President Hamid Karzai (C) shows respect to members of the new parliament after giving an oath in Kabul, Jan 26, 2011

Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai has inaugurated the country's parliament, ending a week-long political standoff with newly elected candidates who had threatened to begin the proceedings with or without him. The opening ceremony in Kabul came four months after the country held its second post-Taliban parliamentary elections.

President Hamid Karzai wanted to delay the opening of the parliamentary session for a month to allow time for a special judicial tribunal to investigate allegations of widespread fraud in the September elections.

But winning candidates have rejected the inquiry as illegal and unconstitutional. The lawmakers had threatened to start the parliamentary proceedings last Sunday without the president, while the U.N-led international community also criticized the delay in opening the session.

The embattled Afghan leader backed down under the pressure and agreed to swear-in the 249-member Wolasi Jirga, or lower house of parliament.

In his speech, President Karzai asked the new lawmakers to set aside their differences and show national unity to help bring stability to their country. He said Afghanistan has made progress in the past 10 years both on political and economic fronts.

But Mr. Karzai admitted the journey toward achieving a durable economic and politically stable Afghanistan is long and difficult. He also vowed that the country's security forces will be able to take over security responsibilities from NATO-led foreign forces in four years.

Speaking to VOA by telephone, a female member of the Afghan parliament, Fauzia Kofi, says that a functioning parliament is vital for efforts to stabilize the country.

"It will allow more time for the parliamentarians to talk on important issues of withdrawal [of foreign troops], the political stability more responsibility to the government, our foreign policy relationship with our strategic partners,” Kofi said. “All of these issues should be talked at the parliament and should be agreed at the peoples' house."

Critics say that a representative of the country's majority Pashtun population, President Karzai seems to be unhappy with the make-up of new legislature where a large number of members belong to the minority Tajik and Hazara communities.

The creation of the special judicial tribunal by the president to investigate fraud allegations is being seen as an attempt to seek disqualification of more candidates to pave the way for re-election. But lawmaker Kofi dismisses these concerns.

"President [Karzai] is the president of Afghanistan,” Kofi added. “He is not the president of a specific tribe or a specific ethnicity. He is responsible for the nation. The people of Afghanistan demonstrated their choices by going to the polling stations and voting for their representatives. The truth is this parliament has been legitimized by peoples' vote."

Speaking to VOA, losing candidate Daud Sultanzai defends the president's decision to create the judicial tribunal.

"In a country that has been at war for many, many years, this is a milestone, I think, that we are taking disputes to the courts rather than to battlefields,” said Sultanzai. “And in that respect and also in respect to reviving the self-confidence of a nation that was losing confidence in its system of governance and in its judicial system."

The tribunal is empowered to unseat any candidate involved in vote-rigging, but it is still unclear whether the outcome of the entire process will change the results of Afghanistan's parliamentary elections.