Karzai faces new rejection of Afghan cabinet

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// KABUL (Reuters) – The Afghan parliament was expected to reject most of President Hamid Karzai’s cabinet for a second time on Saturday, a key lawmaker said, dealing a new blow to his authority just before a major London conference on his country.

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More than two months after being re-elected in an August poll marred by widespread fraud, Karzai has been under intense pressure from his Western backers to choose ministers deemed clean and competent.

Karzai’s first list was rejected by parliament last week. If his revised line-up of 17 ministers is refused a second time, he will have to go back to the drawing board and risk going to the London conference on January 28 without a government.

“I am sitting with at least 25 members of parliament right now and we are talking about the cabinet. Our expectation is that we will see maybe five or six at most who will pass. Maybe not even that,” said Daoud Sultanzoy, MP for eastern Ghazni province.

Lawmakers will vote on the candidate-ministers on Sunday.

“I’m sure that tomorrow’s results will not be such that will complete the cabinet list … most probably less than 50 percent, that gives us the probability that Mr. Karzai will have to send another list,” he said.

If rejected, the second list will again throw Afghan politics into turmoil at a time when the insurgency is worsening and record numbers of foreign troops and civilians have been killed.

Sultanzoy said many of the candidates could be rejected because they presented weak programs to parliament or seemed only interested in personal gain.

“One of the things that I think is very disturbing is that some of the people that were introduced were coming with political baggage, with political influence from those circles who are seeking influence in the government,” Sultanzoy said, declining to give names.

WOMEN MINISTERS MOST PROMISING

Among the most promising candidates on his new list were three women candidate-ministers, who were added after the president was heavily lobbied by Afghan women’s rights activists.

“I’ve seen some qualified people among them, in my opinion especially among the women. Their list is much stronger than the men,” Sultanzoy said.

Most key ministers, including those for the defense, finance and interior portfolios, have already been approved. All are incumbents widely liked by the West.

Karzai has yet to suggest a candidate for the ministry of energy and water after his wish to retain Ismail Khan, a former anti-Taliban guerrilla leader, was flatly denied by parliament.

Sultanzoy said Karzai’s new list showed he had not gone far enough in removing ethnic and tribal powerbrokers.

“There are strong men in each ethnicity … trying to portray themselves as the only beneficiaries and benefactors of those ethnic groups, and that’s an insult to those ethnic groups,” Sultanzoy said.

A spokesman for Karzai said earlier this week the president had a third list of nominees to replace any who might be rejected.

(Reporting and writing by Golnar Motevalli; Editing by Charles Dick)

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