Afghan parliament votes on second cabinet list

Nov 30, -0001
KABUL: Afghan lawmakers began voting Saturday for President Hamid Karzai's second list of cabinet nominees, after rejecting most of his first choices, but are again expected to veto a high number.

Lawmakers voted against 17 of Karzai's 24 original choices earlier this month, delivering a blow to his authority, already undermined after he was declared winner of an August election marred by massive fraud, mostly in his favour.

Parliamentarians, diplomats and analysts said they expected up to one third of his second round of choices to be rejected in a secret ballot.

Members of Afghanistan's Wolesi Jirga, the lower house, many wearing turbans and traditional salwar kameez, began casting their votes on the nominees at around 9.30am (0500 GMT) in a process expected to last most of the day.

The MPs spent this week grilling the new nominees -- 14 men and three women -- on their suitability for the posts, after being ordered by the president to cancel their winter break to consider the list.

"There has been a high degree of absenteeism during the questioning of the nominees, and I expect a large number of them, perhaps one-third, will be rejected," said Haroun Mir, director of Afghanistan's Centre for Research and Policy Studies.

A lack of political parties means there is little cohesion among lawmakers or consultation before they vote.

MP Shukria Barakzai said a line seemed to have been drawn between those parliamentarians who do not like what they see and those who want to finalise the government.

Barakzai said she believed more candidates would pass the second round of voting, despite divisions among lawmakers.

But, she added, "one thing is sure, not all the nominees will be passed this time either."

Parliament's initial rejection of 17 names was seen as a huge blow to Karzai, who is under enormous pressure to prove his commitment to clean and competent government in return for ongoing Western support to rebuild the country and fight Taliban insurgents.

The rejection has left the country without a functioning government, dragging out the political stasis that has prevailed since the August election.

Diplomats said Karzai wants a government in place ahead of an international conference in London on January 28 to discuss the country's future.

The London conference will provide an opportunity for Afghanistan and its Western supporters -- who together have 113,000 troops fighting the Taliban-led insurgency under US and NATO command -- to formalise a development and security plan in 2010, one European diplomat said.

Known for travelling with large entourages, Karzai is expected to be accompanied by up to 11 ministers, diplomats and analysts said.

Karzai's first list of nominees was a clear attempt to appease his critics in the international community, many of whom have made continued support conditional on concrete progress on eradicating corruption.

The seven ministerial nominees who did win approval -- including interior, defence, agriculture and education -- had largely been given the nod by his Western backers.

"We think the first names were broadly OK and it was a government we could do business with," a senior European diplomat said, speaking anonymously.

"With the second lot, our concern is that they are political virgins, and that there is a lot of political patronage involved," he said, echoing concerns that many have little experience but useful connections.

Analysts said the new nominees represent a cross-section of Afghanistan's ethnic mix of Pashtun, Uzbek, Tajik and Hazara.

The list includes three women after the sole female nominee was initially rejected, but analysts said political connections and not competence appeared to be the main qualification for many in the new line-up.

Other nominees have links to powerful warlords who helped Karzai in the August election, analysts said.

At least one is aligned with feared Uzbek warlord General Abdul Rashid Dostam; two are associated with former president and warlord Burhanuddin Rabbani; and several with Haji Mohammad Mohaqiq, an ethnic Hazara former militia leader.

Also on the list is economy portfolio nominee Abdul Hadi Arghandiwal, a former member of Hizb-i-Islami, who now leads a pro-government wing of the moderate Islamist party.






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