The Independent Election Commission (IEC) has finally announced its decision: the removal and replacement of nine parliamentarians (eight men and one woman).* This is far fewer than the 62 ordered by the Special Court (and confirmed by the Supreme Court in no uncertain language last week), but obviously more than the ‘no changes at all’ that was demanded by the Parliament’s Support for the Law coalition. So the question is now, what do the changes entail and will this outcome hold?
The nine MPs who were removed were either relatively unknown or seemed to have lacked sufficiently strong backing from powerful individuals – as was the case with two relatively prominent MPs who were removed nonetheless: the longtime head of the Herat professional shura, Rafiq Shahir, and former public works minister, Shaker Kargar from Faryab. Engineer Shahir was vulnerable due to his old rivalry with Ismail Khan, while the strong reaction by former Jonbeshi Kargar seems to indicate that he believes not all is lost and that his ties to the palace may still be able to help him out.
Three others who were removed, Taher Zaher from Samangan, Masood Noorzai from Helmand and Zaher Ghanizada from Baghlan, are young and not very well-connected. Habibullah Andiwal from Zabul had recently returned from Moscow to run in the elections. He had won with less than 800 votes, as did the other two winning candidates in Zabul (who could keep their seats only because they had a handful of votes more). Haji Qadir from Paktika is said to be a former district governor linked to the Mahaz-e Melli party. The only removed woman, Simin Barakzai from Herat, was an active member of the Support for the Law coalition and reportedly close to Kabul Bank CEO, Khalil Ferozi. The only removed candidate who seems capable of stirring up some significant trouble, at least in his own area, is the very notorious local commander, Wali Niazi from Badakhshan.
The nine removed candidates were replaced with nine previously losing candidates. The electoral data shows that all nine ‘new MPs’ had the same profile: they had all been leading candidates in the preliminary results; they were all among the 23 winning candidates disqualified by the Election Complaints Commission (ECC) for electoral misconduct; and they were all on the Special Court’s list of newly winning MPs. There were, however, a total of 16 candidates who had been in the exact same position – winning, disqualified by the ECC and ordered to be reinstated by the Special Court – and it is not clear why the IEC has picked these nine and left the remaining seven without seats.**
Most of the nine ‘new MPs’ have close links with senior officials or Kabul-based politicians and are generally considered ‘bigger names’ than those they have replaced (which may be either good or bad). The IEC has added four ‘heavy-weight’ former commanders: former Zabul governor, Hamidullah Tokhi, former Hezb-e Islami commander in Gereshk, Moallem Mirwali from Helmand; former rival of Dostum and deputy of Hezb-e Azadi, Guli Pahlawan from Faryab; and notorious former Samangan governor, Ahmad Khan. Hamidullah Tokhi was actively involved in both Dr Abdullah’s campaign and his Change and Hope coalition, but he left when the coalition announced its opposition to the Special Court’s decision. Moallem Mirwali is reportedly close to the Attorney General, Ishaq Aloko.
The others who were added included Tsaranwal Raouf from Badakhshan, who has been linked to both Dr Abdullah and Marshal Fahim; Nesar Ahmad Ghoriani, former head of Herat’s electricity department and is considered close to Herat strongman and Minister for Water and Energy, Ismail Khan; Mahmud Sulaimankheil, a former elected senator from Paktika and Ashiqullah Wafa from Baghlan who has a fuel business. The only woman to be reinstated, Rahima Jami campaigned for Karzai during the presidential elections and is said to have been supported by both Ismael Khan and Afghan Mellat during the parliamentary vote.
Although suspicions are likely to abound, the results suggest that the IEC’s result has not been directly dictated by the demands and desires of a wide variety of power holders (although their preferences will undoubtedly have been taken into account). The outcome – which seems to have a certain (although only partially applied) logic to it – suggests that the IEC has, first of all, sought to uphold and restore its original preliminary results and that it – at least in part – reverted to the candidates who had won the election before the ECC disqualified them. It is, however, highly problematic that there has been no transparency on how the IEC has decided which of the Special Court’s decisions to uphold and which to ignore, and why nine were reinstated and seven others left to sit at home.***
There are now potentially four disgruntled groups, who may or may not decide to continue their protests. First, there are the 53 candidates who were on the Special Court’s list, but who have not been given a seat in Parliament. Most of them had seen the IEC’s decision coming – details were consistently leaked as the outcome came into focus – but some of them will, at least to start with, loudly protest the decision, to gauge whom they can rally or what they might gain. In particular, Ghazni hopeful Daud Sultanzoi has escalated his language over the last few days and may feel obliged to keep up his protest.
Second, there are the protesting candidates that were not on the Special Court’s list. Some of them have gathered and have demanded the disbandment of the whole – in their eyes – deeply discredited, Parliament. They may well be joined by some of the disappointed 52.
Third, there is the opposition-backed coalition for Support of the Law, led by the highly-strung, Haji Zaher Qadir. He and his most vocal allies have always insisted that they would not tolerate the removal of even one MP. The coalition, however, seems to be losing a large number of its more silent members and it is now the ad hoc coalition of pro-Karzai ‘Reformers’ that is claiming a remarkable growth in numbers.
Fourth, there is the judiciary and the Ulema Council who have proven their support for President Karzai by insisting on the full implementation of the Special Court’s ruling. The fact that they have done this in ever more absolutist terms – invoking among others, the Qu’ran, the Prophet, sharia and the religiously mandated leadership of the President – may make it harder to back down (even if the actual intention was to protect the prestige and authority of the judiciary and the President, rather than a scuffle over 62 seats). On the other hand, the judiciary may simply be waiting for a nod of approval from the President (who, according to the recent presidential ruling, is now officially the highest authority and judge), and lay the matter to rest.
The deputy speaker of the Parliament, Behzad, has already rejected the decision on behalf of the whole parliament (tomorrow’s session will show whether he can uphold that claim). Others to have reacted strongly include removed MP Shaker Kargar and protesting candidate Daud Sultanzoi. But if the candidates and MPs who wish to contest the IEC decision, are not joined by (parts of) the opposition or other disgruntled groups, the matter may ultimately fizzle out.
This however does not mean that all is well. The government and the parliament – regardless of the composition they finally settle on – will need to deal with (1) the severely damaged prestige of all involved, in particular the President, the Parliament, the judiciary and the IEC; (2) the refusal of the Parliament and the judiciary, and also the President, to acknowledge each other’s legitimacy and authority; and (3) the abusive and inflammatory language and allegations that can never be fully taken back. The broken down relations can, to a certain extent, be repaired, or even glossed over, but the underlying conflicts in Afghan politics have escalated during this long and drawn-out episode. Afghan politics now increasingly include implied threats and suspicions: that Parliament could be disbanded, that the President could be impeached, that a state of emergency could be imposed or violent protests launched. Opposing sides have tried to force the other’s hand by using either the language of sharia or that of the law and the constitution, potentially discrediting all. It remains to be seen whether and when the dust will settle.
* For the background on the parliamentary stand-off and why the IEC is changing the results see here, here and here.
** The seven that were not reinstated were, from Herat, Muhammad Maruf Fazli and Ahmad Wahid Taheri (brother of NSC head Dr Rangin Dadfar Spanta), Ismail Zabuli from Zabul, Dr Nassim Mudaber from Baghlan, Massud Bakhtawar and Abdul Wali Hamidi from Farah, and Wahidullah Kalimzai from Wardak. An eighth candidate, Amir Lalai in Kandahar, died of a heart attack earlier this month. It is unclear how the IEC would have ruled if he had still been alive
*** There were, additionally, five leading candidates who had been disqualified by the ECC, who were not on the Special Court’s list – the reasons for this were unclear. These were: Aziz Ahmad Nadem in Herat, Muhammad Rahim Kattawazai in Paktika, Heshmat Karzai in Kandahar, Haji Fazl Seydkheili in Parwan and Mohammad Rahim Ayubi in Sar-e Pol.
Details of the changes.
Wali Niazi (7,811 votes in the final results) is replaced by Saranwal Abdul Rauf, who had come in second in the preliminary results with 9,703 votes. He was disqualified by the ECC and ordered to be reinstated by the Special Court.
The Special Court had also ordered the reinstatement of Abdul Shukur Waqif Hakimi and Munera Baharaki, which was not followed by the IEC. Neither of them had been a leading candidate in the preliminary results.
Zaher Ghanizadah (3,080 votes) was replaced by Ashiqullah Wafa, who had come in fourth in the preliminary results with 6,029 votes. He was also disqualified by the ECC and ordered to be reinstated by the Special Court.
Dr Nassim Modaber, who was also disqualified by the ECC and who had slightly more votes in the preliminary results than Wafa (6,197 votes) but he was for some reason not reinstated. He would have replaced Delawar Aimaq, if the IEC had followed the Special Court’s decision.
Former Minister of Public Works Shaker Kargar (6,906 votes) was replaced by Gul Mohammad Pahlawan, who came in fifth in the IEC’s preliminary results with 7,372 votes. He was also disqualified by the ECC and ordered to be reinstated by the Special Court.
The Special Court had also ordered the reinstatement of Massuma Salatanat and Najibullah Salimi, which was not followed by the IEC. Neither had been removed by the ECC and neither had been a winning candidate in the preliminary results.
Massud Noorzai (1,644 votes) was replaced by Moallem Mirwali who had come in third in the preliminary results with 2,244 votes. He was also disqualified by the ECC and ordered reinstated by the Special Court.
5 & 6. Herat
Rafiq Shaheer (5,347 votes) was replaced by Nesar Ahmad Ghoryani, who had come in first in the preliminary results with 17,906 votes. He was disqualified by the ECC for not having resigned his job – the decision was fiercely contested by his supporters – and ordered reinstated by the Special Court.
Semin Barakzai (1,688 votes) was replaced by Rahima Jami, who had come in fifteenth in the preliminary results with 3,290 votes. She was disqualified also by the ECC and ordered reinstated by the Special Court.
Haji Abdul Qadir (3,880 votes) was replaced by Mahmud Khan Suleimankheil, who had come in second in the preliminary results with 7,604 votes. He was disqualified by the ECC and ordered reinstated by the Special Court.
Interestingly, the Special Court had ordered the removal of Seyd Ishaq Gailani, but the IEC removed Haji Abdul Qadir instead. Abdul Qadir had been ahead of Seyd Ishaq Gailani in the preliminary results, but ended up with slightly less votes than Gailani in the final results.
Taher Zaher (6,005 votes) was replaced by notorious ex-Jombesh commander Ahmad Khan Samangani, who had come in first in the preliminary results with 19,166 votes. He was disqualified by the ECC and ordered reinstated by the Special Court.
Habibullah Andiwal (748 votes) was replaced by former Zabul governor and Hezb-e Islami commander Hamidullah Tokhi, who had come in first in the preliminary results with 2,795 votes. He was disqualified by the ECC and ordered reinstated by the Special Court.
This article was last updated on 9 Mar 2020