A showdown between President Hamid Karzai and his country’s newly elected parliament was averted late Saturday when the Afghan leader agreed to convene the inaugural legislative session this week rather than push for a one-month postponement.
Lawmakers were intent on defying Karzai’s order to delay the first session, initially scheduled for Sunday, and had said they would meet at a mosque or in the street if security forces blocked them from the parliament building.
The standoff pushed the Afghan leader and his government to the brink of a full-blown political crisis.
Members of the 249-seat lower house of parliament were elected in September in balloting tainted by allegations of fraud and voter intimidation. After investigating the allegations, an election watchdog body discarded one-fourth of the ballots cast and disqualified 19 winning candidates.
Karzai’s government, however, pushed for further inquiry . It is widely believed that Karzai, an ethnic Pashtun, thought vote fraud had prevented a higher turnout in districts dominated by Pashtun constituencies.
A Supreme Court-ordered special tribunal was established in December to continue investigating the election, and Karzai wanted the inaugural parliamentary session delayed while the tribunal continued its work.
Fraud charges have come to define elections during Karzai’s tenure as president. When he was reelected in 2009, findings of fraud disqualified a third of the vote.
Karzai met with lawmakers Saturday at the presidential palace to hammer out a compromise. Under mounting pressure from the United Nations and the United States to back down, Karzai backed off his insistence on a one-month delay.
Lawmakers said they expected Karzai to formally announce the agreement Sunday and then be present Wednesday to inaugurate the parliament as required by the constitution.
If he reneges on the compromise, lawmaker Fawzia Koofi said, “we are ready to inaugurate parliament ourselves at any time.”
Elsewhere in Afghanistan on Saturday, one civilian was killed and two were injured when three militants caught in a gun fight with Afghan and coalition troops detonated their suicide vests in the eastern province of Khowst, said Abdul Hakim Eshaqzai, the provincial police chief.
Ten militants were killed in the gun battle and 11 were arrested, Eshaqzai said.
Also Saturday, two North Atlantic Treaty Organization troops were by in a roadside bomb blast in eastern Afghanistan. NATO did not divulge the nationalities of the troops or the specific location of the attack.
Rodriguez reported from Islamabad, and special correspondent Hashmat Baktash reported from Kabul.