January 02, 2010

Many Karzai Afghan Cabinet Choices Are Rejected

January 3, 2010

By ALISSA J. RUBIN
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/03/world/asia/03afghan.html?pagewanted=print

KABUL, Afghanistan — In a clear signal to President Hamid Karzai that he cannot count on Parliament for support, lawmakers resoundingly rejected most of his nominees for cabinet posts and expressed discontent with the candidates’ competence.

Of Mr. Karzai’s 24 cabinet nominees, 17 were rejected and 7 approved. Of those who received votes of confidence, all but one are currently cabinet ministers.

The president’s office had no comment on Saturday’s vote; the deputy spokesman, Hamid Elmi, said a news conference would be held on Sunday.

After being declared the winner of an election tainted by fraud, Mr. Karzai has been under pressure from Western leaders and Afghan opposition figures to help make things right by choosing cabinet officials not linked to corruption or incompetence. Parliament’s action on Saturday made it clear that they felt he had not met those requirements.

In particular, they said that they were not consulted enough during the nomination process and that many cabinet nominees lacked the professional backgrounds necessary to do their jobs. However, ethnic politics were also in play, raising questions about whether lawmakers were primarily interested in being partisan defenders of their own ethnic constituencies, though many denied that that was a factor.

“The members of the Parliament cast their vote based on merit, not based on tribal or ideology or factional interests,” said Kabir Rangbar, an independent member from Kabul. “This is a reaction against Karzai’s choices.”

The effects of the move were difficult to predict, since it is possible that Mr. Karzai will try to make recess appointments once Parliament leaves for its winter break. But over all, it suggested a deepening divide between the president and Parliament. And it could also leave a number of ministries adrift, under the uncertain leadership of deputy ministers who lack political power.

“The significance of the rejection has to do with politics and Karzai’s failure to build a cabinet that spoke to a wide enough spectrum of people, and also with the weakening of his political machine,” said Alex Thier, the director of the Pakistan-Afghanistan program at the United States Institute of Peace, a Washington-based research group.

Of those confirmed, four were Pashtuns, one Tajik, one Uzbek and one Sadat. The only woman to be nominated was turned down, as were a Turkmen and three Hazara candidates. In all, seven ministers who were nominated for second terms were voted down, including the ministers of public health, telecommunications and counternarcotics.

Five of the most prominent and successful ministers during Mr. Karzai’s first term, the defense, interior, finance, education and agriculture ministers, were endorsed for second terms.
They were also the ministers, with one exception, who had strong American backing, according to people close to the process.

A spokeswoman for the American Embassy issued a noncommittal statement supporting Parliament’s right to vet candidates, but did not make detailed comments on specific candidates.

Shukria Barakzai, a member of Parliament from Kabul, said she observed opposition to nominees who represented political parties. She noted that Ismail Khan, a powerful member of the Jamiat Party and a former commander from the western province of Herat, was rejected, while the former commerce minister Mohammed Sharwani, an Uzbek, who is viewed as an independent, was confirmed as the minister of mines. Similarly, the finance minister, Hazrat Omar Zakhilwal, who is viewed as independent, was endorsed for a second term.

“Those who came as a representative of a group, they failed,” Ms. Barakzai said. “I hope it will be a good lesson for President Karzai that when the issue of reform comes, he is not alone; the members of Parliament really want reform. It was the moderates and the technocrats who got the vote of confidence.”


Fatima Aziz, a Tajik who represents the northern province of Kunduz, differed from her colleagues in saying that she thought ethnicity had played a part in the votes. She said she was disappointed that several nominees from minorities had not done well.

Of the 246 Parliament members, 232 were present, which meant that each minister had to get at least 117 votes to win approval. The voting was by secret ballot. Notably, none of the ministers received ringing endorsements; not one received even two-thirds of the votes, and some were confirmed by barely a handful of votes.

Several lawmakers said that over all, they thought the voting and the rejection represented a new era for Parliament and one in which they were better representing their constituents.

“It’s very essential to bring or to make a balance between the power of the president and the power of the Parliament,” Mr. Rangbar said. “The voice of the people had been widely ignored before, but today Parliament members showed with full confidence they are speaking for their constituents.”

Sangar Rahimi contributed reporting.

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