Afghan parliament launches debate on cabinet
KABUL, Apr 3 (Reuters) - Afghanistan's parliament began a debate on President Hamid Karzai's new cabinet today with opponents seen likely to criticise and perhaps reject some of his choices.
Karzai, who has been leading Afghanistan since shortly after the ousting of the Taliban in 2001, announced a limited cabinet reshuffle last month that included the appointment of an adviser on foreign affairs, Rangeen Dadfar Spanta, as foreign minister.
Under the constitution, the parliament elected in landmark legislative polls last September must approve the members of Karzai's team with a vote of confidence.
''It is a matter of great happiness that the people of Afghanistan themselves are deciding on their new cabinet,'' Yunus Qanuni, the president of the lower house of parliament, told the assembly after Karzai's team was introduced.
The assembly will question ministers individually and then vote on each by secret ballot. The process is likely to take at least a week, and perhaps longer.
Serious opposition to many of Karzai's choices could undermine the president's authority.
Last September's general election, held on a non-party basis, produced a disparate group of former communist officials, several ex-Taliban members, as well as technocrats and women's rights activists.
But the 249-seat lower house is dominated by members of former Mujahideen, or holy warrior, factions that battled Soviet occupiers in the 1980s, fought a civil war for much of the 1990s and helped U.S. forces overthrow the Taliban in late 2001.
Qanuni, a former top political official in one of the strongest factions that helped oust the Taliban, urged members to put aside ethnic and factional affiliations and think of the national interest when voting for ministers.
''SIGNIFICANT OPPOSITION'' The debate comes days after the lower house strongly criticised Karzai's government over the release of a Christian convert who had faced death under Islamic law for abandoning Islam. Qanuni and many other members of the assembly said last week the release of the convert, who was quickly spirited away to asylum in Italy, was illegal.
Karzai's ministers are likely to face a range of questions, over issues such as their expertise and the problems facing their ministries.
But analysts said it was very difficult to predict how the debate in Afghanistan's first elected parliament in more than 30 years would go.
''They're still coming up with their own procedures, they're still getting to know each other, they're definitely still getting to know the issues,'' a Western political analyst said.
''To judge from earlier statements, there will be questions and some level of significant opposition to some of the candidates, definitely, but it's very hard to predict how many, or who will face a tougher ride than the others,'' he said.
Last month's cabinet changes were aimed at improving government efficiency and came after protracted negotiations between political and ethnic factions.
Unlike previous cabinets, the new line-up contains only a handful of old faction commanders, and more well-educated technocrats, but some Afghans complain there are still not enough qualified people in the team.
If a minister is rejected, the president will put forward another candidate for that post.