(Reuters) – Graft is destroying Afghanistan and next month’s parliamentary poll will be little more than a dark comedy run by political elites unless there is real change, one of President Hamid Karzai’s fiercest critics has said.

Dr. Ramazan Bashardost

Dr. Ramazan Bashardost

Sitting in a tent off a muddy highway opposite Afghanistan’s parliament, Ramazan Bashardost warmed up to his pet subject.

“If we have a clean parliament and a majority of MPs who believe in good governance and human rights values, Karzai’s ministers could stay in place and it would be a big threat to Karzai himself,” Bashardost told Reuters.

“If we had a young generation (in politics) it would be a disaster for the warlords, corrupt politicians, for Karzai,” the French-educated constitutional lawyer said.

The September 18 parliamentary poll is seen as a test of stability in Afghanistan, where violence is at its worst since the Taliban were ousted in 2001, and for Karzai’s credibility after a fraud-marred presidential vote last year.

The early signs are not good, with four candidates and at least five campaign workers killed so far.

Bashardost, who stood against Karzai last year, is among roughly 2,500 candidates seeking one of 249 seats.

Outside Bashardost’s tent, a trickle of people gathered to petition for his help, many with problems with Afghanistan’s notoriously impenetrable bureaucracy. Others lingered to hear him as the maverick, bike-riding lawmaker moved up a gear.

Karzai, he says , has created a political edifice in which the warlords and their followers — whose destruction of Kabul and lawlessness in the 1990s the Taliban originally rose to crush — have become the pillars of his rule.

“This is not an election,” he said. “It is a comedy.”

CORRUPTION ACCEPTED

Parliament, Bashardost says, is no more than a rubber stamp for Karzai’s government. The system encourages candidates to act along narrow ethnic and religious lines.

“Since this parliament started its work in 2005 the situation has got worse. Our duty was to do something about corruption and security but we accepted corruption with ministers and judges,” Bashardost said.

Corruption and poor governance are also major concerns in Washington and are sure to be factored in when U.S. President Barack Obama conducts a strategy review of the increasingly unpopular war in December.

Bashardost came third in last year’s presidential vote, where more than a third of votes cast for Karzai were thrown out as fake, straining the patience of Karzai’s Western backers.

Bashardost, an ethnic Hazara who eschews factionalism, briefly served as minister of planning in Karzai’s government, but walked out complaining of corruption and wastage.

To make his point, he set up camp in his spartan tent and shunned the business of expensive campaigning, with its slick posters and rallies with free food to woo voters.

“Campaigning means you should have a programme, not just a slogan. It’s all about big posters, it’s a fashion competition,” said Bashardost, whose tent is dwarfed by a huge banner for suave parliament speaker Yunus Qanuni, one of the veterans he bemoans.

“Where do they find the money to spend on this election?”

Bashardost also wants to know what has happened to all the billions of dollars of aid money that has poured into Afghanistan since 2001, a sore point between Karzai and the West.

“Forty billion dollars in nine years is enough to build five new Afghanistans,” Bashardost said.

(Editing by Paul Tait and Sanjeev Miglani)

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