- The Washington Times - Monday, January 4, 2010

KABUL, Afghanistan | The head of the U.N. mission in Afghanistan said Sunday that parliament’s rejection of most of President Hamid Karzai’s nominees for a new Cabinet will delay efforts to establish a functioning government that can focus on badly needed reforms.

Kai Eide said he was surprised that lawmakers rejected 17 of Mr. Karzai’s 24 picks. Mr. Karzai will now have to spend time submitting new Cabinet nominees, delaying his second-term government’s ability to fully partner with donor nations ahead of an international conference on Afghanistan in London on Jan. 28, he said.

In 10 hours of voting Saturday, parliament rejected nominees viewed as Mr. Karzai’s political cronies, those believed to be under the influence of warlords and others deemed unqualified. The vote was a setback to the president, although lawmakers did approve his retention of incumbents in the key portfolios of defense, interior and finance.

“I think most of us were surprised at how many ministers were not approved by the parliament,” Mr. Eide said. “It’s a setback, and it’s a distraction.”

Karzai spokesman Waheed Omar said Sunday that the president also was surprised by the rejections, but the vote showed Afghanistan has a pluralistic political system.

“This is the beauty of democracy. We are exercising democracy,” Mr. Omar told reporters.

He acknowledged that “this is obviously not good in terms of the functioning of the government, in terms of services,” but said all ministries were still functioning.

“In some ministries, the deputies are carrying out the duties,” Mr. Omar said.

Abdullah Abdullah, the former foreign minister who ran against Mr. Karzai in August’s fraud-ridden presidential election, said he believed the rejection of the Cabinet nominees could have reverberations in this month’s international conference.

“I think it will affect the situation in the London conference, first of all [because] the legitimacy of Mr. Karzai was under question because of what happened in the elections and afterwards,” he told Associated Press Television News.

Mr. Karzai will submit new nominations for the empty ministerial posts, Mr. Omar said, but it was not clear when.

“It could take weeks,” Mr. Eide predicted. “It could take more than weeks before we have a government shaped and approved by parliament.”

Mr. Eide, a Norwegian diplomat, is stepping down this year after a rocky two-year tenure marked by a fraud-marred national election and a deadly Taliban attack on U.N. employees. He spoke to reporters just hours before leaving the country to speak Wednesday at the U.N. Security Council.

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