Parliament Speaks Up

parliament-23-december-2012

Tolo News photo

As the deadlock drags out, their is a growing number of pleas for some sort of resolution to the crisis from President Obama and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (see the VOA article here), to the ordinary Afghans who are sick of the situation.  Add to that list, the Afghan parliament or Wolesi Jirga.  While making numerous statements over the past months, several members, including the speaker of the house, have reiterated their willingness to help mediate the problem (see the Pajhwok article here).  On one level, this group, technically elected by the Afghan people on a province by province basis, could offer another more legitimate venue for mediation.  As ‘representatives’ of the people, this is a way of indirectly re-involving the voters who have essentially been completely removed from the process.  Additionally, as one law maker suggested, why have international solve the crisis, when the Afghan lawmakers are currently not playing much of a role and should understand the issue much better.  Such an approach has a certain logic, since in the proposed negotiations Kerry, Abdullah and Ghani see a potentially new, stronger role for the Wolesi Jirga.  If the body’s shape and powers are to be reworked, shouldn’t they have  a say in the process?

There are two central problems with the idea of parliament taking on a more major role in the negotiations.

The first is that parliament has been weak and divided particularly over the past five years.  This has much to do with the undermining of the body by the Karzai government, but it also is due to the lack of activity by the body.  Members are often absent, debates have descended into physical confrontations on numerous occasions and it’s not rare to catch members napping during sessions.  Media reports on this have done much to delegitimize the body in the eyes of the public.  Given all this, it is difficult to imagine parliament all of a sudden becoming an efficient, civil place to resolve this dispute.

The second issue, is that the implication that parliamentarians are somehow above the political fray is simply wrong.  Most of the parliamentarians have come out in support of one candidate or the other.  In many cases, they are strong supporters who are actually highly invested in the candidates holding out as long as possible.  While their rhetoric about working for “the good of the country” is certainly nice, there is still not much of a track record of unbiased compromise coming from the group.

With those issues in mind, it seems highly unlikely that the Wolesi Jirga could suddenly morph into a body that resolves this dispute.  That being said, however, there seem to be a decreasing number of realistic options for individuals or groups to mediate between the candidates: the Americans and the UN have tried and failed to pressure the candidates into an agreement; the IEC has lost credibility and appears too weak politically to regain control of the situation, Karzai remains either unwilling or unable to broker an acceptable truce and the military remains on the sidelines.  So while the Wolesi Jirga will continue to be a long shot, someone is eventually going to need to rise above the fray or else the situation will simply continue to deteriorate.

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