Karzai to open Afghan Parliament by January 20: Lawmaker

Afghan President is now likely to face a more vocal and coherent opposition.

Kabul: Afghan President Hamid Karzai has promised to inaugurate Parliament by January 20, a prominent lawmaker said on Monday, more than four months after a Legislative Election marked by widespread fraud.

The election had degenerated into a debacle even before the voting on September 18. Losing candidates staged street protests and tension rose over reports the attorney general`s office had asked for the vote to be annulled.

Allegations of fraud in the September poll - and in a Presidential Election last year - have raised questions about the credibility of Karzai and his government as a partner as US and NATO leaders assess their long-term commitment to Afghanistan.

Final results from all 34 provinces were released on December 01 and poll officials had said late last month a new parliament could be formed within a week. But there has been no attempt to convene the assembly.

The Independent Election Commission (IEC) has accused the attorney general`s office of "irresponsible statements" and warned of a political crisis after local media reported it had called for election results to be cancelled.

Fawzia Kufi, an outspoken parliamentarian from northeastern Badakhshan province, said she and other members had met Karzai at his palace last week and asked him to open the new assembly.

"We told him it was the president`s responsibility to inaugurate parliament or appoint someone to do it," Kufi said. "The President promised us he would inaugurate Parliament by January 20."

Karzai`s chief spokesman, Waheed Omer, was not immediately available for comment, but was to hold a news conference later in the day.

Kufi and around 100 other members gathered at the Parliament last week and issued a three-point declaration, including a demand for Karzai to open Parliament by December 19.

Karzai told Kufi he first had to appoint one-third of the members of the upper house -- whose terms have now expired -- and also needed more time to prepare for the ceremonial procedures involved in opening the assembly.

"It has been a long time since Parliament was working and that is not good for the country but, as long as he says he will inaugurate it, then it is fine," Kufi said.

Kufi said the President would consider opening Parliament earlier than January 20 if the Constitution allowed him to do so before appointing one-third of the upper house.

She said Karzai had declined to comment on the reported calls by the attorney general`s office for the results to be cancelled. Kufi accused the President last week of instigating efforts to have the poll annulled.

Until recently, Parliament had largely acted as a rubber stamp, but it flexed its political muscle earlier this year when it rejected several of Karzai`s cabinet nominees.

Karzai is now likely to face a more vocal and coherent opposition than the previous chamber.

Bureau Report