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Cablegate: Parliament Overrides Karzai Vetoes

VZCZCXRO8131
PP RUEHPW
DE RUEHBUL #2595/01 2661023
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 221023Z SEP 08
FM AMEMBASSY KABUL
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 5596
INFO RUCNAFG/AFGHANISTAN COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RHEHAAA/NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUEKJCS/OSD WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RHMFIUU/HQ USCENTCOM MACDILL AFB FL PRIORITY

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 KABUL 002595

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

NSC FOR JWOOD
OSD FOR SHIVERS
CG CJTF-82, POLAD, JICCENT

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV AF
SUBJECT: PARLIAMENT OVERRIDES KARZAI VETOES

REF: KABUL 2245

1. (SBU) SUMMARY. The National Assembly's Lower House has
for the first time overridden several vetoes by President
Karzai, effectively bringing into law measures on the media,
land ownership, and the establishment of a constitutional
implementation commission. However, problems with achieving
quorum in parliament, tracking voting patterns, and enforcing
constitutional checks and balances mean it is unlikely we
have seen the final word on these laws. The votes against
Karzai are also a sign his administration may need to spend
more time mending relations with Lower House Speaker Yunus
Qanooni and better maintaining a network of supporters among
MPs.

First Veto Overrides in Parliament's History
----------

2. (SBU) The Lower House voted earlier this month to
override Karzai vetoes on seven pieces of legislation,
ranging from high-profile issues on the media and the
establishment of a constitutional disputes commission, to
more mundane bills on land ownership and road tolls. The
Constitution requires the Lower House to have a two-thirds
majority of MPs present to override a presidential veto.
These are the first vetoes successfully overridden in
parliament's two years of operation.

3. During its tenure, the National Assembly has had
difficulty gathering required quorums to hold votes (reftel),
lacked political parties capable of building coalitions, and
conducted votes by either secret ballot or an informal system
of holding up green (aye) or red (nay) cards. When votes
with the colored cards occur, MPs rely on the Speaker's
visual estimate that there is a winning 50 percent-plus one
or two-thirds majority. In most cases, votes are not called
unless it is apparent there will be a decisive result.
Confirmation votes for Cabinet ministers and other
high-ranking officials have secret ballots.

Respecting Checks and Balances
----------

4. (SBU) According to the Constitution, a vetoed bill
automatically becomes law once overridden by the Lower House.
However, the parliament moved into new territory this month
with the overrides and it is unclear how quickly the
administration will accept its legislative losses. Minister
for Parliamentary Affairs Farooq Wardak said there were
several constitutional "gray areas" concerning balance of
powers with implications for how the president and
legislature interact. Lower House staff also seemed unsure
how to move ahead. Although MPs have overridden these vetoed
bills, technical staff members are unsure how to promulgate
the legislation to government agencies hostile to some of the
laws' requirements. Parliament may need to revisit the laws
in a few months if the government refuses to implement the
disputed elements.

Surprise Votes Catch Karzai Off-Guard
----------

5. (SBU) Speaker Qanooni strategically held votes on most
of the vetoed bills on the same day Wardak introduced
Attorney General nominee Ishaq Aloko for a confirmation
hearing. Qanooni knew a confirmation vote would draw enough
MPs to achieve a quorum, finally giving him the chance to
clear business that had lingered on the house's agenda for
months. Wardak said he didn't get word the override votes
would take place until a 7 am phone call from Qanooni
informing him his staff had "added some minor other business
to the Lower House's agenda" -- just one hour before Wardak
and Aloko headed to parliament. Indeed, although Qanooni has
said votes on the vetoed bills were a priority for him this
legislative session, they had not been on the Lower House
agenda that week.

6. (SBU) Wardak said the late notice did not give him
enough time to prepare a counter-strategy against the votes.
He was also upset Qanooni took no official count to determine

KABUL 00002595 002 OF 002


whether two-thirds of the MPs present had indeed voted
against the president, although he conceded there was
"probably" a sufficient majority for each of the votes. But
even if Wardak had received more notice, it's unclear what he
would have done to press his case. He told PolOff he courts
MPs to support the president's position on an issue-by-issue
basis, with no "whip" in parliament or on his staff to count
supporters ahead of votes.

Underdeveloped Legislative Outreach
----------

7. (SBU) The lack of many close votes in parliament has
made tracking alliances by recorded votes difficult, as has
parliament's SNTV election system where MPs are elected with
no party identification. Furthermore, Karzai has refused to
join or create a political party of his own, giving up a
potential advantage to consolidate support from a known
quantity of MPs. Wardak acknowledged it has been difficult
to assemble a lasting coalition in support of the president
without formal blocs.

A Wake-Up Call for Karzai's Parliament Strategy
----------

8. (SBU) This month's vetoes caught Karzai and his
parliamentary "fixer" Wardak off-guard, but there are still
several vetoed bills and other legislation Karzai has
threatened to reject on the Lower House's agenda for the
remainder of the session. Qanooni's strategy to bring the
override votes up on short notice is likely in response to
Karzai's making law by presidential decree during
parliamentary recesses. These circumstances help explain how
Karzai's often-deficient relations with MPs have hurt his
support in the Lower House.

9. (SBU) However, raising the legalization of foreign forces
issue has won the president some respite from criticism in
parliament. Wardak promises this is just the beginning of a
more attentive outreach to MPs. If he hopes to avoid further
surprises and embarrassments from the Lower House, he and
Karzai will need to develop a network of supporters that is
more reliable on routine issues and procedural votes, in
addition to building a better working relationship with
Speaker Qanooni.
DELL

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