January 22, 2011 in City, Nation/World

Afghan parliament near crisis

Lawmakers threaten to defy order, seat themselves
Saeed Shah McClatchy
Associated Press photo

Russian leader Dmitry Medvedev and Afghan President Hamid Karzai confer Friday in Moscow.
(Full-size photo)

KABUL, Afghanistan – President Hamid Karzai will meet with Afghan lawmakers today in a last-ditch attempt to resolve their differences over a disputed election and avert a clash that could spiral into constitutional chaos.

A large number of those elected in last year’s parliamentary elections have vowed to inaugurate the new parliament unilaterally on Sunday and start proceedings, in defiance of an order by Karzai issued this week to delay the opening by another month.

Karzai won’t return from a two-day trip to Russia until today, giving him just a few hours before a potentially violent confrontation between lawmakers who say they will force their way into the parliament building and security forces loyal to Karzai.

A functioning parliament is an important plank of the West’s attempts to improve governance in Afghanistan, to speed up the handover of responsibilities to Afghans and to allow the departure of U.S.-led international military forces from the country.

The United Nations, on behalf of the international community, weighed in on the side of parliament Friday, expressing its “deep concern and surprise” at Karzai’s decision, announced Wednesday, to postpone the inauguration.

“UNAMA (United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan), the European Union, the United States, Canada and other concerned members of the international community continue to support a reasonable, enduring and peaceful resolution to this issue … so that Parliament can convene as soon as possible,” the U.N. said in a statement.

If no compromise is reached between Karzai and the lawmakers today, it will leave the U.S. ambassador, U.N. representative and other diplomats with the difficult decision about whether to attend the rebel first session of the parliament.

It’s been four months since the vote for the 249 seats in parliament, and multiple investigations into allegations of fraud in the voting have held up the start of the new assembly.

Critics of Karzai accuse him of deliberately stalling the parliament in hopes of disqualifying some of the opposition members. He set up a controversial court to decide hundreds of complaints from losing candidates and postponed the start of parliament to give the court more time.

As many as 220 of the winning candidates oppose Karzai, though the president’s supporters insist that the rebels don’t have the majority.

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