It was the eighth day of ousted Afghan parliamentarian Simeen Barakzai’s hunger strike. Through chapped lips and in a rough voice, she said Sunday she would not drink or eat anything until President Hamid Karzai opened an investigation into vote fraud by the woman who has taken over her seat.
Her protest is the latest turn in a seemingly interminable dispute over who belongs in the Afghan parliament — still going on, more than a year after elections that were marred by fraud.
Fraud monitors discarded 1.3 million ballots from the poll — nearly a quarter of the total — and disqualified 19 winning candidates before results were finalized last fall. But many of the losers had argued that voters had been disenfranchised and pressured Karzai to revisit the results. Karzai eventually took the case to the courts, which ruled that 62 sitting parliamentarians should be removed, even though the court had no legal standing to change the results.
The accusations, investigations and law-bending have delayed work and threatened to undermine the legislature’s legitimacy.
Barakzai is one of nine parliamentarians removed from their seats in August as part of a pragmatic but messy compromise that was meant to finally end the saga and let the lawmakers get to work. The U.N. and a host of international missions released statements welcoming the ruling by Afghan election officials.
Even so, that decision sparked a new round of protest and political maneuvering that only finally seemed ready to die down on Saturday when a group of boycotting parliamentarians returned to session.
But now, Barakzai’s hunger strike appears likely to reopen the dispute all over again. A group of about 30 lawmakers — many of them in leadership positions in parliament — have called for Karzai to open a formal investigation into her case. They gathered in the small tent outside parliament where Barakzai lies on a cot on Sunday afternoon and told her that they were hopeful that Karzai would meet their demands.