Afghanistan parliament: Hamid Karzai delays opening

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has postponed the opening of the country’s parliament by a month. The move comes after a special tribunal set up to probe allegations of fraud in September’s parliamentary elections requested a postponement. The five-judge tribunal – established in December to review complaints from hundreds of losing candidates – said it needed more time to investigate. Its head, Sedaqalluh Haqiq, said there was evidence of fraud countrywide. Parliament, which was due to have started work on Sunday, will now be opened on 22 February. Correspondents say that the tribunal’s recommendation to delay parliament’s opening is controversial because it is itself considered unconstitutional by both the international community and the electoral bodies who organised and oversaw the parliamentary vote. Mr Haqiq said that the tribunal needed to investigate more than 300 cases. “You cannot find any province in which there was not fraud,” he said.

Last September’s parliamentary poll – and the presidential election of 2009 – were dogged by fraud allegations which damaged the credibility of President Karzai and his government. The final general election results from the country’s 34 provinces were released on 1 December, but there has so far been no re-convening of parliament. Critics say that is because President Karzai is not happy with the outcome of the poll, which has produced a parliament with a larger, more vocal and coherent opposition than the previous chamber. Correspondents say the new parliament contains bigger groups of ethnic Tajiks and Hazaras, who may challenge the president’s traditional power base among Pashtuns, Afghanistan’s largest ethnic group. There are 249 seats in the lower house of the Afghan parliament. Correspondents say that although it is largely seen as weak in comparison with President Karzai’s administration, the legislature has successfully blocked many of the president’s cabinet appointments and been the primary dissenting voice to the country’s powerful executive. – BBC