Members of parliament have endorsed all sixteen candidates put forward by Afghanistan’s national unity government. This means that, six months into its term, the country has an almost complete cabinet – only the defence minister is still missing. This is the MPs’ second such vote. The first, on 28 January 2015, saw only a third of the candidates getting through. Kate Clark, Ehsan Qaane and Qayyum Suroush ask why there has been a change of heart from the parliament and hear charges of vote-buying and MPs’ fears that, if they did not endorse the sixteen, they would be castigated by a public impatient for the government to get on with governing.In a second round of voting, the Afghan Parliament votes in all sixteen candidate ministers. Image credit: Tolo News.
Under the constitution, every minister needs the approval of parliament to take up his or her post. When the government put through its first choice of suggested ministers, MPs only endorsed a third of them. One third had already fallen by the wayside because they dual nationals, were wanted for criminal prosecution or had no higher education and never made it to the vote. One of those who had a second nationality, Sayed Mansur Naderi, re-appeared on the current list, although for a different ministry. A further third of the candidates in January were rejected. AAN wrote at the time that the list was rather weak, with few big-hitters and many candidates who had little experience or were not obvious fits for their proposed ministries. Today’s list had similar characteristics: half have no experience working in government and many lack experience in the subject area of their ministry. For example, Afghanistan now has a medical doctor at Justice, a women’s rights activist lawyer at Counter Narcotics and a businessman at Education. Other ministers do look better suited, eg a hydraulics engineer at Water and Energy. Several of the appointments also look to be political pay back for support during the election.
It is not obvious why the parliament voted in all candidates today when it rejected many on a similar list in January. In general, MPs endorsement does not necessarily mean they like what is on offer, as voting in favour or against often has as much to do with mood and timing and what messages MPs want to send the executive and the country. It might just be that the parliamentarians, like the general public, are tired of not having a government and also feared being lambasted if they were seen as having stood in the way of a cabinet finally being formed. However, there were also allegations that money had changed hands to ‘persuade’ MPs to endorse candidates. Hasht-e Subh, for example, reported that MPs were asking for iPhones and money and that government officials were complaining that, compared to the Karzai era, bribes had gone up “terribly.”
In the January vote, MPs rejected all the Hazara, Uzbek (the third and fourth largest ethnic groups respectively) and women candidates. Today’s sweeping endorsement of all sixteen candidates does mean that Afghanistan has a fairer-looking cabinet. Of the 25 ministers, there are four women (still not enough, many activists would say, but at least the number President Ghani had promised) and, as to ethnicity, nine Pashtuns, seven Tajiks, three Hazaras, two Uzbeks, one each from Ismailis, Shia Sayeds and Turkmen and one minister who is reported by different sources as either Tajik, Uzbek or Turkmen.
This is still not quite a full cabinet. The all-important post of defence minister remains to be filled. It was the reported cause of a major rift between Doctors Ghani and Abdullah earlier in the month. Abdullah was reportedly incensed by what he said were unilateral announcements by Ghani for Afzal Ludin as defence minister (1) and Shukria Barakzai as head of the Election Reform Commission. There are also some other significant gaps: the Attorney General, Head of the Supreme Court, Head of the Central Bank and most of the country’s governors.
As AAN and others have reported, there is growing discontent in the country with the lack of governing going on, particularly given the ailing economy and disturbing attacks by insurgents – 31 civilians kidnapped in Zabul in late February and still not freed, soldiers captured and beheaded in Badakhshan on 10 April 2015 and today, a major attack in Jalalabad which left more than thirty dead and more than one hundred injured and which overshadowed parliament’s vote. Addressing the nation live on television from Badakhshan today, President Ghani said:
On one hand, we are in a very sad situation, but from another a very happy one. What happened in Badakhshan and Nangarhar is our sad situation, but the approval of our 16 ministerial candidates by the parliament is the happy one. We have had problems in the economic sector and were not able to implement policies due to the lack of ministers.
The real test of the new cabinet is whether, now that the government’s key team is largely in place, it can finally start to govern better.
How the vote went
239 MPs voted (out of 246). To be confirmed, candidate needed a simple majority of 120 votes. The votes for the sixteen (read their full biographies here) went as follows:
(AA) and (AG) refers to whether it is believed Abdullah Abdullah or Ashraf Ghani put forward the candidate
1. Abdul Bari Jahani, Culture and Information (AG): 120 votes in favour (66 rejected, 35 blank, 6 invalid)
One of the leading Pashtun poets of modern times, a Kandahari who, for many years, worked in broadcasting with Voice of America in the United States. (2)
2. Assadullah Zamir, Agriculture (AG): 192 votes in favour (28 rejected, 15 blank, 4 invalid)
An ethnic Tajik in his late thirties, born in Kabul, one of the co-founders of Fourteen Hundred / 1400, a group of young(ish) Afghans interested in influencing policies; has many years of experience working in various ministries (rural development, education, mines and agriculture).
3. Muhammad Gulab Mangal, Border and Tribal Affairs (AG): 188 votes in favour (28 rejected, 13 blank, 8 invalid)
A Paktiawal and member of the communist People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan before it seized power in the Saur Coup of 1978, who later joined the mujahedin; a former governor of Paktika, Laghman and Helmand.
4. Engineer Mahmud Balegh, Public Works (AG): 168 votes in favour (38 rejected, 23 blank, 8 invalid)
An ethnic Hazara from Daikundi and one of the youngest ministers; an engineer by education, a former editor of Eqtedar-e Melli newspaper (published by the Shia political party Hezb-e Eqtedar-e Melli, which split off the mujahedin party Harakat-e Islami under the late Kabul MP Mustafa Kazimi after the Taleban regime came down) and now a businessman, part owner of one of the largest construction companies in the country.
5. Abdul Satar Murad, Economy (AA): 152 votes in favour (51 rejected, 29 blank, 6 invalid)
A Tajik from Parwan province in his late 50s, he was deputy head of Abdullah’s electoral campaign team and chairman of the political committee of Jamiat-e Islami; taught English at a mujahedin military academy in the 1980s, served in the Rabbani government and in various Islamic State embassies and, post-2001, set up a construction company and was governor of Kapisa.
6. Dr Muhammadullah Batash, Transport and Aviation (AG): 176 votes in favour (32 rejected, 25 blank, 6 invalid)
An Uzbek in his mid-50s from Kunduz with a PhD from Moscow University who is a Jombesh party activist; has served as deputy and acting minister of transport, as governor of Faryab and as a government advisor.
7. Sayed Sadat Mansur Naderi, Urban Development (AG): 202 votes in favour (18 rejected, 10 blank, 4 invalid)
Son of Sayed Mansur Naderi (the Ismaili religious leader and former militia commander who was with the PDPA government until 1992 and then was one of the warring parties in the civil war, allied with the ‘Northern Alliance’) who is chair of a group of companies active in nearly all of Afghanistan’s main economic sectors (including fuel import and storage, construction, precious metals and gems, security, property dealing, advertising, supermarkets and insurance).
8. Dr Abdul Basir Anwar, Justice (AA): 138 votes in favour (65 rejected, 30 blank, 5 invalid)
An ethnic Tajik from Parwan and leading member of Hezb-e Islami; holder of a medical degree, he was deputy minister of health during the Rabbani government and advisor on social affairs to former President Karzai.
9. Abdul Razaq Wahidi, Telecommunication (AA): 152 votes in favour (53 rejected, 28 blank, 5 invalid)
A Hazara from Kabul in his late 30s who grew up in Iran and returned in 2002 to teach mathematics at Kabul University, after which he served on the Kankur Committee of the Higher Education Ministry and as General Administrative Director and Deputy Minister for Administration at the Ministry of Finance.
10. Dilbar Nazari, Women’s Affairs (AA): 131 votes in favour (70 rejected, 28 blank, 9 invalid)
An Uzbek from Balkh in her 50s with a background in education and NGOs (including Oxfam, German Agro-Action and UNICEF); a former MP.
11. Salamat Azimi, Counter Narcotics (AG): 155 votes in favour (60 rejected, 23 blank, no invalid)
A lawyer and women’s rights advocate from Andkhoi in Faryab (sources put her variously as Tajik, Uzbek and Turkman) who has served as professor, head of the criminal law department and deputy director of Balkh University, head of the section for children’s rights at the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission in Mazar-e-Sharif and a delegate at several loya jirgas.
12. Dr Farida Momand, Higher Education (AG): 184 votes in favour (31 rejected, 18 blank, 5 invalid)
A Pashtun from Nangarhar, a doctor, former professor at Kabul Medical University and dean of the pediatric department.
13. Dr Nasrin Oryakhel, Labour and Social Affairs (AG): 169 votes in favour (62 rejected, 21 blank, 5 invalid)
A Pashtun medical doctor from Paghman and leading member of President Ghani’s election campaign who has been the director of both Rabia Balkhi and Malalai hospitals in Kabul.
14. Ali Ahmad Osmani, Water and Energy (AA): 168 votes in favour (36 rejected, 29 blank, 5 invalid)
An ethnic Tajik in his early 40s, a hydraulic engineer by education and work experience (with the World Food Programme and in private business).
15. Humayun Rasa, Trade and Industries (AA): 170 votes in favour (39 rejected, 24 blank, 4 invalid)
An ethnic Hazara (with a Bayat mother) from the Qarabagh district of Ghazni who served as Deputy Minister for Literacy with the Ministry of Education and Deputy Head of Logistics in the National Directorate of Security.
16. Assadullah Hanif Balkhi, Education (AA): 161 votes in favour (27 rejected, 25 blank, 24 invalid)
An ethnic Tajik in his fifties from Balkh and member of Jamiat-e Islami (he was particularly close to the late Marshal Fahim); schooled at the Abu Hanifa madrassa and Sharia Faculty of Kabul University, he reportedly also studied in Saudi Arabia; a former ambassador to Kuwait and owner of a construction company.
(1) Afzal Ludin was commander of the presidential guard under Najibullah. This would have given the second ‘power ministry’ to a former PDPA regime representative, after Ulumi as interior minister.
(2) The one candidate to scrape through, Abdul Bari Jahani at Culture, was only given permission to present himself to the house this morning and accepted onto the voting list at the last minute.
A special commission had been in charge of reviewing the required documents of the candidates including university degrees, citizenship documents and documents showing they had committed no crimes. There were suspicions over the documents – citizenship or education – of eight nominees (Zamir, Baligh, Murad, Naderi, Osmani, Rasa, Balkhi and Batash), but in the end, only Bari Jahani was, initially, not allowed to present himself to parliament because of an alleged second (American) citizenship.
He should have appeared at the house on Wednesday 15 April 2015, but instead on that day, a letter was read to the house issued by the United States embassy in Kabul and sent via the Foreign Ministry and Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs. This, however, was deemed insufficient to prove that Bari had started cancelling his second citizenship. Some of the Pashtun Kandahari MPs, such as Lalai Hamid Zai and Abdul Rahim Ayubi, shouted in the session, saying some MPs were not allowing a Kandahari to be a minister. Lalai asked for Jahani to be given the vote despite his dual citizenship. Hafiz Mansur was the only MP who argued against giving one more chance to Jahani, saying the special commission had given enough time to the candidates and he should be out of the list. Finally, the speaker asked the commission to review the US embassy letter, ask the US embassy for clarification and make a decision on Jahani’s case. The commission then allowed Jahani to make his presentation before the vote today and to be included in the vote.
This article was last updated on 9 Mar 2020