Afghans to alter the government under deal

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KABUL, Afghanistan -- The deal that Secretary of State John Kerry brokered to ease the Afghan election crisis with a sweeping audit of the vote was quietly built on an even more profound reshaping of the entire government system, U.S. and Afghan officials confirmed Sunday: The sides have agreed to gradually create an empowered prime minister post after years of an all-encompassing presidency.

Nearly a decade after U.S. officials pushed a constitution that enshrined near-dictatorial powers for the president, it is a tacit admission that changing to a more parliamentary system -- a fraught undertaking at any time -- is now seen as crucial to holding the country together after years of mounting political crises and ethnic and factional hostilities, officials said.

The change was a central goal for the candidate Abdullah Abdullah, who has brought the entire political system to the brink with accusations of rampant fraud and threats to form a breakaway government, according to officials who were close to the negotiations.

They, like other U.S. and Afghan officials who confirmed the agreement, spoke on condition of anonymity because the details had not yet been worked out. They stressed that only a "framework" had been accepted in talks with Mr. Kerry, but they all agreed on its outlines.

The candidate who is declared president after a complete vote audit in the coming weeks would then appoint either the loser, or that candidate's nominee, to become a "chief executive" for the government, with powers to be agreed on later. Then, in the following two or three years, the constitution would be amended to create a parliamentary democracy with a prime minister as head of the government and a president as the head of state.

That timeline puts important decisions off into a very indefinite future, and will revive a debate that deeply divided Afghan officials a decade ago, with some arguing then that a parliamentary system risked instability.

With no assurances even that the auditing for fraud will go smoothly during the next month, or that the result will be widely accepted, the change then would require a successful parliamentary election and the Afghan equivalent of a constitutional convention, all under the continuing threat of Taliban offensives to seize territory.

More immediately, the two candidates, Mr. Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, despite the recent tensions, are in the coming weeks to divvy up Cabinet posts, governorships and other jobs as Afghan and international elections officials review each one of the more than 8 million votes cast in the June 14 runoff.


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