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Afghanistan election: Why the next parliament won't check Karzai's power

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She decided not to stand for the new parliament because it would once again be 249 members each working alone, thereby getting little done.

Afghan political parties are mostly irrelevant, having been largely discredited during the initial decades of the Afghan conflict.

Karzai, meanwhile, has no party but has the apparatus of government, with which he could influence votes – legally and illegally. His family also controls major businesses like the troubled Kabul Bank, allowing him indirect avenues through which to financially support pliant MPs.

To be sure, other players put money into the election for disparate reasons.

Iran appeared to be actively donating to candidates, probably looking for help opposing permanent US base agreements on its doorstep, says Ms. Saqib.

Businessmen are not all in league with Karzai – some are apparently frustrated with his family's control of the business landscape. Malalai Ishaq Zai, a vocal critic of Karzai's half-brother in Kandahar, says she is receiving support from various businessmen there.

But broader-based unhappiness with the government and its secretive outreach to the Taliban have so far not been effectively channeled into a coherent opposition movement.

Saqib supported Abdullah Abdullah during his challenge to Karzai for the presidency last year. When he lost, Dr. Abdullah promised to work for a national opposition movement.

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