By Sayed Salahuddin
KABUL (Reuters) – Afghan President Hamid Karzai is expected to present a new list of cabinet nominees to Parliament on Saturday, an official said, replacing 17 names unexpectedly rejected by lawmakers last week in a humiliating snub.
Even if the new choices are accepted however, it may not spell an end to the political turmoil that has dogged Afghanistan since a fraud-marred presidential election last year.
The United Nations said on Monday it would not back a parliament poll scheduled for May without reforms to the voting process, but a top Afghan election official told Reuters that there was no time to bring in some of the changes demanded in the UN report, and the others were in the hands of Parliament itself.
Karzai used a presidential decree to force lawmakers to postpone their winter recess to vet a new government after they threw out over two thirds of his candidates, including several close allies and one powerful ex-guerrilla commander.
The lower house of parliament expects the president to present his new list of cabinet nominees on Saturday, said Hasib Noori, parliament’s head of media relations.
It will include a candidate for foreign minister, a portfolio that was not covered in the last submission of 24 prospective cabinet members, so lawmakers will have to question 18 nominees, a process that took well over a week in the last round.
“Parliament will go over their credentials and plans and then will vote,” Noori said.
He did not know which names would be on the list, but another senior official on Monday said it would include some of those already rejected, only in different portfolios.
Karzai was returned to power in last year’s tumultuous presidential contest only after his main challenger withdrew from a second round, triggered when a U.N.-backed watchdog threw out one third of the incumbents votes.
He promised a fresh start and a crackdown on corruption in his inauguration speech and his cabinet line up was seen as a key test of that pledge, making parliament’s sweeping rejections a major political blow.
NEW ELECTION TURMOIL?
A report on Afghanistan by UN chief Ban Ki-moon, made public on Monday, admitted the election crisis sapped confidence in the Afghan leadership and international will to engage.
Critics are already warning of a repeat fiasco in May parliamentary elections, and Ban said reforms would be needed before the United Nations can back that poll.
Among these are a review of the appointment mechanism for the Independent Election Commission (IEC) to ensure its impartiality, improvements to the voter registration system, development of domestic observation and strengthening of the legal framework.
But Zekria Barakzai, deputy head of the government-appointed IEC, warned there was no short-term solution to voter registration in a country where many people lack even basic documents to prove who they are.
“I don’t think things will change fundamentally in a few months, even if we delay the vote, because this issue is much deeper: there is no single Afghan identity card,” he said.
Barakzai also told Reuters that he could not promise changes to the way the IEC worked because it had no control over this.
“We are doing whatever is in our power, and whatever is not in our power is an issue for the legislature,” he said.
The method of appointing commissioners is up for change in a new law, but the Justice Ministry had not been able to tell the commission when it might be passed, Barakzai added.
The election showdown comes at a time when violence is at its highest levels since the ouster of the Taliban in 2001.
The U.S. military’s intelligence chief in Afghanistan also sharply criticized the work of U.S. spy agencies there on Monday, calling them ignorant and out of touch with the Afghan people.
The report, which highlighted tensions between military and intelligence agencies, urged changes such as a focus on gathering more information on a wider range of issues at grassroots level.
Release of the report came less than a week after a suicide bomber killed seven CIA officers at a U.S. base in eastern Afghanistan, the second-most deadly attack in agency history.