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Cablegate: Events in Parliament September 30 - October 11

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UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 KABUL 003520

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TAGS: PREL PGOV PHUM AF
SUBJECT: EVENTS IN PARLIAMENT SEPTEMBER 30 - OCTOBER 11

-------
SUMMARY
-------

1. (U) Parliament continued to debate and, in some cases,
amend the 100-plus remaining Presidential decrees enacted
before its establishment. Speaker Qanooni's ongoing dispute
with President Karzai over constitutional authority found
expression in parliament's attempt to override Karzai vetoes
of two parliamentary initiatives: the first to raise the age
of majority to 19 and the second to establish a
constitutional oversight commission. A joint commission from
the Wolesi Jirga (Lower House) and Meshrano Jirga (Upper
House) reached a compromise (welcomed by the international
community) on a bill regulating the media, which will be sent
to Karzai for signature. The Lower House approved bills
regulating protests and political party registration, and
defining the military penal code. It also debated, but did
not vote on a bill establishing a military penal system. The
Upper House referred a bill on government land-leasing back
to committee after conservative members asserted it might
violate Sharia Law. Twenty five randomly selected members of
the Upper House were offered free Umrah trips to Saudi Arabia
courtesy of the Government of Saudi Arabia. End Summary.

--------------------------------------------- ------
Parliament-Palace Constitutional Struggle Continues
--------------------------------------------- ------

2. (SBU) The Lower House-Palace constitutional powers dispute
lost no steam. Lower House Speaker Qanooni failed to
maintain quorum to override President Karzai's vetoes earlier
this year of bills setting the age of majority and
establishing a constitutional oversight commission.
Pro-Karzai MPs left the session before the votes, breaking
quorum. Qanooni plans another attempt to override the vetoes
in coming weeks. (Comment: As proposed, a constitutional
oversight commission would be responsible for interpreting
the constitution and would include members appointed by
parliament, an explicit challenge to Karzai personally and to
the authority of the Supreme Court. End Comment.)

--------------------------------------------- -
Compromise Produces Media Law Acceptable to IC
--------------------------------------------- -

3. (U) A joint Upper and Lower Houses reconciliation
committee reached consensus on a bill governing media
regulation. The compromise encourages freedom of the press
by separating state-sponsored Radio Television Afghanistan
from the Ministry of Information and Culture, and affirming
the independence from direct ministry control of the High
Media Council, which oversees the Afghan press, television
and radio. Advisors to Speaker Qanooni say parliament's
legal office is finalizing the bill, and will transmit it
soon to Karzai for signature.

----------------------------------------
Public Demonstrations, Political Parties
----------------------------------------

4. (U) The Lower House amended and approved a bill regulating
police and protestor behavior during public demonstrations.
One amendment specified that police may only use non-lethal
force against protesters unless fired upon first. Other
amendments criminalize threats of violence from protesters,
forbid protestors from carrying weapons, and restrict
participation in protests by some classes of persons.
Foreigners are forbidden from participating in public
demonstrations except those pertaining to international
issues. Members of the army, police and intelligence service
may not participate in protests.

5. (SBU) The Lower House passed a bill on political parties
with two amendments that will raise the bar for registering
new parties, but will not affect existing parties. The
amended bill increases the number of signatures required to
register a party from 700 to 5,000, and the fee for

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registering a party from one to two million Afghani (an
increase from approximately 20,000 USD to 40,000 USD). The
bill is intended to discourage the proliferation of small
political parties, and was driven in part by larger parties
and political groupings intent on forcing party
consolidation.

--------------------------------------------- -----------
Military Penal Code and Land Leasing Bills Hit Obstacles
--------------------------------------------- -----------

6. (SBU) Lower House Approves Military Penal Code Bill, No
Vote on Military Penal System Bill: The Lower House approved
a bill containing the military penal code with no changes,
and debated, but did not vote on a bill to establish a
military penal system because it lost quorum. (Comment:
While members of parliament sometimes leave sessions in order
to deliberately break quorum for political reasons, they more
often leave the chamber for competing meetings or simply
because they're uninterested in the topic. Parliament's
system for determining "presence" is partly responsible for
the frequency with which the houses lose quorum. In order to
count as present, members must be physically inside the house
chamber. End Comment.)

7. (SBU) Upper House Conservatives Call Government
Land-Leasing Bill Anti-Sharia, Stop Debate: The Upper House
debated a bill on leasing government land, but returned it to
committee when conservative members voiced concerns it might
be against Sharia law. Discussion began with consideration
of the term of government leases, but quickly turned to the
admissibility of leasing government land at all under Sharia
law. With debate stymied, members referred the bill to
committee for additional research. (Comment: Conservative
members of the Upper House played a decisive role by using
Sharia law to stop discussion of a bill that appeared
otherwise unobjectionable. Debate in both houses easily
turns from secular to religious on issues, which to outside
eyes might appear religiously innocuous. Even members
themselves seem to have a difficult time spotting potential
religious entanglements. The evening before the debate on
the government land-leasing bill, Second Assistant Secretary
of the Senate Senator Abdul Khaliq told us he expected easy
passage of the bill. End Comment.)

---------------------------
Trips to Mecca and Scotland
---------------------------

8. (SBU) Saudi Arabia Offers Free Umrah Trip to 25 Senators:
Saudi Arabia offered during the last weeks of Ramadan an
all-expenses-paid trip to Mecca for 25 randomly selected
members of parliament's Upper House. (Comment: We interpret
the Saudi's offer as an encouraging indicator of the
Kingdom's support for Afghanistan's nascent governmental
institutions. End Comment.)

9. (SBU) Parliament Breaks for Eid Holiday: Parliament did
not reach quorum during any session in the week before Eid
due to the absence of Speaker Qanooni, who attended a
conference on parliaments in Switzerland. Qanooni has become
a very effective marshal of the Lower House membership and
manager of parliamentary debate. Many members also skipped
plenary sessions in order to spend time with their families
during this important religious holiday.

-------------
Looking Ahead
-------------

10. (SBU) Once sessions resume after the Eid holiday,
parliament will continue to examine decrees enacted by Karzai
before its establishment. Based on parliament's unofficial
(and very tentative) schedule, some of the more notable items
to be discussed include: an anti-narcotics trafficking
agreement with China, a bill defining the Afghan court
system, and discussion of the London Compact Strategic
Agreement.

KABUL 00003520 003 OF 003

11. (SBU) Some members of parliament have expressed a desire
to combine as many of the remaining decrees as possible into
an omnibus bill for consideration before the December 8 end
of the current session. Some reportedly would like to open
up the legislative calendar to consideration of issues they
find of more compelling interest. MPs are generally becoming
more conscious of the legislative calendar. During its first
sessions, members often debated bills leisurely over several
days, limiting parliament's productivity. Recently, bills
are moving through both houses more quickly.

WOOD

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