World News

Afghan opposition says new parliament can check Karzai

KABUL (Reuters) - A loose coalition of Afghan lawmakers who oppose Afghan president Hamid Karzai have won enough seats in a new parliament to place some checks on presidential power, a senior opposition figure said on Wednesday.

Abdullah Abdullah, an ophthalmologist who was Karzai’s main rival in presidential elections last year, said more than 90 candidates who had pledged their support to his movement had won seats, although he declined to give an exact number.

Long-delayed results from the September 18 parliamentary poll were announced on Wednesday.

But the disqualification of three more candidates, the absence of one province from what was supposed to be a final tally, and angry protests further clouded an election already tainted by widespread allegations of fraud.

Abdullah said he had scored a massive increase on the number of opposition MPs who formed a cohesive bloc in the last parliament, and potentially enough to provide a real counterweight to Karzai’s power.

“In terms of the numbers I would say that it is already more than 90,” Abdullah said when asked about the size of his unofficial party in parliament.

“The presence of a bigger number of opposition members of parliament will certainly have an impact ... I think we will be able to introduce some checks and balances,” he told reporters.

Political parties are mostly removed from the electoral process in a system designed to prevent ethnic factionalism, so parliamentary and presidential candidates run as individuals.

Once in parliament, members form unofficial groupings representing dozens of political parties as well as factions and blocs formed by warlords who fought for and against the Soviet occupation of the 1980s and in the subsequent civil war.

They rarely have the structure or discipline of parties in Western political systems, and parliament has been largely ignored by Karzai in recent years -- but lawmakers did hold him to account over his cabinet earlier this year.

Several of his ministries are still being run by caretakers after parliament rejected swathes of his nominations.


Abdullah also held out hope that the numbers of his voting bloc might rise if unaffiliated candidates his team supported during the messy election aftermath considered signing up.

“There are lots of other people that we have not supported during the election but we have defended their rights, we have helped them with how to register their complaints, and how to go on legally through the process ... and these people also are willing to join the alliance,” he said.

The credibility of the result will weigh heavily on U.S. President Barack Obama’s review of his Afghanistan war strategy, due next month, amid rising violence and sagging public support.

There have been calls for the election, or results from some areas, to be annulled, but Abdullah said it would be better for the country to accept the current results.

Trying to adjust the results to improve representation of those disenfranchised would discredit the poll further, he said.

“The possibility of annulling the elections ... that I am sure will not help the democratic process,