The head of the U.N. mission in Afghanistan said Sunday that lawmakers' decision to reject 70 percent of President Hamid Karzai's Cabinet nominees was a political setback that will only delay efforts to get a functioning government up and running.

Kai Eide called parliament's rejection of 17 of Karzai's 24 picks on Saturday a "distraction" at a time when Afghanistan and the international community are trying to focus on urgently needed reforms.

He told reporters that Karzai now will have to spend political energy nominating new choices, prolonging the time before a functioning government can partner with donor nations. The move also comes amid a military and civilian buildup attempting to stabilize the war-torn country.

Karzai spokesman Waheed Omar acknowledged Sunday that "this is obviously not good in terms of the functioning of the government, in terms of services." But he said all ministries were performing duties with caretakers filling any holes in the Cabinet.

The president was surprised by the rejections, said Omar, but emphasized the vote showed Afghanistan has a pluralistic political system.

"This is the beauty of democracy. We are exercising democracy," Omar said at a news conference.

Karzai will submit new nominations for the unfilled ministerial posts, Omar said, but it was not clear when.