A Peek Inside The Afghan Parliament

Jul 29, 2013
Originally published on July 29, 2013 7:07 am
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Afghanistan's parliament is now on its summer recess. In the final moments of their legislative session, members passed two critical laws governing next year's presidential election. President Hamid Karzai approved both of them, clearing the way for that election next year. But beyond that, not much else was passed.

NPR's Kabul correspondent Sean Carberry recently visited parliament. He was there to take a broad look at the legislative process at work in a country that went three decades without an elected parliament before its return in 2005. In the current climate, the Afghan reporters who cover parliament are not very impressed. Here's Sean's postcard.

SEAN CARBERRY, BYLINE: It's around 9 AM, and a few dozen Afghan journalists are shuffling into the press gallery of the Wolesi Jirga, or Lower House. The video feed shows parliamentarians giving speeches in the chamber. Most of the journalists here look like they're barely in their 20s. In fact, the media gallery itself reminds me of a high school language lab. There's a long bench running down the room, with more than a dozen stations with various audio and video jacks.

MPs continue making speeches, but the journalists here don't seem to be paying any mind.

QIAM NOORI: Why we're not caring that much to the MPs' speeches? Because most of them are speaking (bleep). I'm sorry for the language.

CARBERRY: Qiam Noori works for two Afghan news websites. He's been covering parliament for a little over a year. He says that he and his fellow journalists spend much of their time making jokes about the MPs and their speeches.

NOORI: Actually, we get used to it, so we know they're not talking about important things that we can use to file the news.

CARBERRY: Clearly, Western reporters have nothing on Afghans when it comes to cynicism. Right now, only about a dozen of the Lower House's 250 members are in the hall.

NOORI: Attendance is a very concerning point. Most of the MPs are not present. There are some MPs, that they are not coming even one day in the whole year.

CARBERRY: Parliamentarian Abdul Sattar Khawasi agrees.

ABDUL SATTAR KHAWASI: (Through translator) The absence of MPs is a chronic disease that cripples the Lower House.

CARBERRY: Khawasi says parliament is also crippled by its own internal bureaucracy and members who focus only on personal benefit from their positions.

One recent law was passed with only 36 MPs holding up their green voting cards. But even with full attendance, the Afghan parliament is weaker than its American counterpart because the president here can pass laws by decree.

Razia Abdulahi has been covering parliament for two years. The most disconcerting thing to her is the way MPs conduct themselves during sessions.

RAZIA ABDULAHI: (Through translator) Unfortunately, they don't accept each other peacefully.

CARBERRY: She says lawmakers should tone down their fights and set a better example for the Afghan people.

But reporter Abdul Zahur Qayuni, who's been covering parliament for seven years, says things are actually getting better.

ABDUL ZAHUR QAYUNI: At the beginning, there was much problem. And now, things are friendly.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken)

CARBERRY: But he's one of the few who characterize things as friendly. There was a major shouting match a couple of days earlier, when parliament briefly debated on a law eliminating violence against women. It caused so much controversy that the debate was called off after 15 minutes, and the draft law has not been raised since.

Sean Carberry, NPR News, Kabul. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.