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Karzai swears in Afghan Parliament

Accuses West of meddling in election process

Afghan lawmakers prayed during the inauguration of the country’s new Parliament in Kabul yesterday. Afghan lawmakers prayed during the inauguration of the country’s new Parliament in Kabul yesterday. (S. Sabwoon/ Associated Press/ Pool)
By Heidi Vogt
Associated Press / January 27, 2011

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KABUL, Afghanistan — President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan reluctantly swore in a new Parliament yesterday, and he criticized the international community for meddling in the country’s elections.

Having barely averted a standoff with lawmakers that threatened to turn into a constitutional crisis, Karzai reminded them that ongoing vote fraud investigations mean many of their seats are still uncertain.

Karzai’s stance threatens to keep the credibility of Parliament in question even as the assembly starts working to pass laws and budgets.

Strengthening the Afghan government is seen as key to the fight against a stubborn insurgency.

The idea is that a strong government will better be able to take over responsibility for security, and Afghans will be less likely to turn to the Taliban if they have faith in their government.

Karzai has repeatedly questioned the legitimacy of the Parliament since results were certified in November.

Most notably, he backed a disputed tribunal that has renewed investigations into electoral misconduct long after an official panel backed by international advisers completed its own investigation.

When Karzai ordered that the opening session be delayed a month to allow investigations to finish, the 249 elected legislators threatened to open the session without his approval this past Sunday — the originally scheduled opening date.

Karzai later capitulated but said investigations would continue.

The top United Nations official in Afghanistan welcomed the inauguration as a crisis averted.

“The danger was the lack of unity in this country,’’ said Staffan De Mistura. He said the inauguration was crucial.

“If that had not taken place, we would have had a lot of tension and confusion,’’ De Mistura said.

In New York, a spokesman for Ban Ki-moon said the UN secretary-general also welcomed the opening of Parliament.

The step marks “the beginning of a period in which Afghan governing institutions must work together to solve the pressing problems that the country faces, putting aside the differences as any robust and vibrant democracy demands,’’ said the spokesman, Martin Nesirky.

Karzai also called for unity in his speech to the parliamentarians, but at the same time he accused international advisers of trying to force their ideas and methods on the Afghan people.

“If the election had been wholly Afghan, without any doubt it would have been transparent and less expensive, reflecting the will of the people,’’ he said.

“There are a lot of questions that we need to respond to about the parliamentary election,’’ he added.

Karzai has also accused Western powers of trying to force a runoff between him and his runner-up in last year’s presidential election in order to undermine his administration.

He still maintains that the UN-backed electoral fraud panel threw out votes that weren’t fraudulent in order to undercut his lead.

The current tribunal backed by Karzai argues that it will be able to change the results of the parliamentary vote. Afghan election officials and international advisers say the tribunal has the authority to rule only on criminal cases.

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