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Karzai’s cabinet nominees rejected by Parliament again

Lawmakers in Afghanistan rejected Saturday 10 of the 17 cabinet nominees put forward by President Hamid Karzai. This is the second humiliation for the President, as earlier this month they rejected virtually all of his picks.

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AFP - Afghan lawmakers Saturday rejected more than half of President Hamid Karzai's second list of cabinet nominees following an earlier rejection of most of his first choices, the speaker said.

In a vote aired live on state television, 223 parliamentarians voted in a secret ballot to reject 10 of the 17 picks and approved only seven for the second-ever elected government of Afghanistan, Mohammad Younus Qanooni said.

The ministers who were confirmed included Karzai's former national security adviser Zalmai Rasoul, who will be foreign minister, and Amina Afzali as minister of women's affairs.

On January 2 lawmakers voted against 17 of Karzai's 24 original choices, delivering a blow to his authority, already undermined after he was declared winner of an August election marred by massive fraud, mostly in his favour.

Karzai presented 17 other new appointees -- 14 men and three women -- as his second choice and is yet to put forward a name for the ministry of water and power.

Parliamentarians, diplomats and analysts had earlier said they expected up to one third of his second round of choices to be rejected in a secret ballot.

Members of Afghanistan's Wolesi Jirga, the lower house, many wearing turbans and traditional salwar kameez, spent the week grilling the new nominees after being ordered by the president to cancel their winter break to consider the list.

Those approved included ministers of justice, foreign affairs, religious affairs, economy, rural development, social affairs and counter narcotics.

Ministers for defence, agriculture, interior, finance, education, culture, and mines and industries were approved in the first round of voting.

Karzai now needs to introduce 11 new faces for approval to complete his cabinet but cannot nominate anyone who has already been rejected.

"There has been a high degree of absenteeism during the questioning of the nominees, and I expect a large number of them, perhaps one-third, will be rejected," Haroun Mir, director of Afghanistan's Centre for Research and Policy Studies, said before the voting started.

A lack of political parties means there is little cohesion among lawmakers or consultation before they vote.

Parliament's initial rejection of 17 names was seen as a huge blow to Karzai, who is under enormous pressure to prove his commitment to clean and competent government in return for ongoing Western support to rebuild the country and fight Taliban insurgents.

Karzai's office issued a statement quoting him saying he "regretted" that such a large proportion of his nominees had been rejected but that he "respected" the constitutional decision of the parliament.

He said he had made his choices based on "merit, professionalism and national partnership".

The rejection has left the country without a fully functioning government, dragging out the political stasis that has prevailed since the August election.

Diplomats said Karzai wants a government in place ahead of an international conference in London on January 28 to discuss the country's future.

The conference will provide an opportunity for Afghanistan and its Western supporters -- who together have 113,000 troops fighting the Taliban-led insurgency under US and NATO command -- to formalise a development and security plan in 2010, one European diplomat said.

Karzai's first list of nominees was a clear attempt to appease his critics in the international community, many of whom have made continued support conditional on concrete progress on eradicating corruption.

"This is a government we can work with and look forward to working with," Richard Holbrooke, Washington's special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan told reporters in Kabul.

Analysts said the new nominees had represented a cross-section of Afghanistan's ethnic mix of Pashtun, Uzbek, Tajik and Hazara, to mirror Karzai's notion of an inclusive "national partnership".

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