Afghanistan Analysts Network – English

Political Landscape

Lower House speaker election: Intermezzo of the Surprise Candidates

Fabrizio Foschini Gran Hewad 6 min

As widely predicted, also the second attempt to elect a speaker of the newly inaugurated Wolesi Jirga that took place on Wednesday did not give any decisive result. Afghanistan’s lower house now has held already its first four sessions without being able to do so. AAN’s Gran Hewad and Fabrizio Foschini have attended the meeting which, despite the lack of a decisive result, made some interesting details noticeable: mainly how strong the influence of the first round’s main contenders – Sayyaf and Qanuni – still is. Meanwhile, the issue of the pending accusations against some members of the Parliament is again taking an ominous shape due to a recent initiative of the surviving Special (Election) Court (with contributions by Thomas Ruttig).

As the winter rains that finally arrived on Wednesday, also this day’s Wolesi Jirga vote about its new speaker was eagerly awaited by many in Kabul. And it went ahead in a rather unusual way, with a completely new list of candidates – after all the contenders of the first day of voting had withdrawn when no one of them could reach the required majority of 50 per cent plus one vote. But after two surprise candidates emerged victorious from Wednesday’s round one, the second and decisive round ended as the one on 26 January: both missed the majority, too, due to a high number of blank votes and abstentions.

Of the ten or so candidates that earlier had announced that they would register themselves for the competition, only five finally entered the vote in the first place. Two more, Hafiz Mansur and Khalil Shahidzada, had withdrawn in the last possible moment, while on the podium giving their electoral speeches.

The first vote then saw the following contestants:

1) Obaidullah Ramin (Baghlan)
2) Baktash Siawosh (Kabul)
3) Muhammad Eshaq Gailani (Paktika)
4) Sediq Ahmad Osmani (Parwan)
5) Huma Sultani (Ghazni)

We have reported about the three on the top of this list in our last blog (click here), but Osmani and Sultani’s candidacies came too late to be included in it. Also, Huma Sultani has been a rather unknown political actor until Wednesday’s vote, when she made it through the first round of voting and faced Sediq Ahmad Osmani in the afternoon run-off. In fact, many observers had expected Eshaq Gailani to face Osmani in a second ballot. But then Gailani was overtaken quite unexpectedly by Huma Sultani with 48 votes to 41. But also Osmani’s 94 votes appeared immediately above expectations, being clearly above the average level for a first round. (See the results of all the election rounds below(*).

Osmani is the more known of the two. He headed the economic committee in the previous Wolesi Jirga, though he stayed away from the limelight. However, he is the elder brother of Zarar Moqbel, the current minister of counter-narcotics who had also served as interior minister before. A formerShura-ye Nazar commander, Moqbel has turned into a Karzai loyalist. But he is still close to Vice President Muhammad Qasem Fahim who took over the lead over the Northern Alliance (of which Shura-ye Nazar was the core) after the death of Ahmad Shah Massud on 9 September 2001 and still enjoys good relations with several northern MPs. Finally, he is also considered close to the US – a political balancing act typical for many leading politicians in Afghanistan. Moqbel seems to have supported his elder brother’s candidacy, possibly with backing from ‘the Palace’.

Huma Sultani is a representative of Ghazni from which province, as reported earlier (see one of our blogs on the issue here), only Hazaras made it into the Wolesi Jirga. She had previously worked as the central region’s director for the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC).

It were the blank votes again that played a decisive role in the run off, preventing the election of Osmani as they did previously prevent Sayyaf from winning. Only this time blank and invalidated ballots together rose from 27 in the first round to a staggering 92 in the second vote, representing then close to 40 per cent of the votes of the 240 present MPs’.

The explanation for such an amount of blank/invalidated votes – which probably sets a record for the Afghan Parliament – is that neither Qanuni nor Sayyaf, who see themselves and are largely still perceived as the real competitors for the position, want the victory of somebody else.

How much influence they can exert on other MPs is visible by the curious plummeting that Huma Sultani’s vote bank received, from 48 down to only 30 in the second turn. The fact that more than one-third of the MPs that had voted for her previously preferred to cast a blank ballot in the decisive vote indicates heavy pressure must have been exerted by the two mentioned heavy weights.

Sediq Osmani in fact, with his 118 votes, missed the position of the Speaker of the Lower House for a mere three votes, (Sayyaf missed it for four votes on Sunday). His high totals on both first and second vote show that his candidacy probably enjoyed strong support from his brother and possibly the government in a wider sense. In fact, Osmani would have been a suitable speaker for the President, and it is not to be excluded that his candidacy was boosted by support from that side, after the earlier failure of Sayyaf’s. Anyway, as the words of Shukria Barakzai go, sometimes ‘it is difficult to get a 50 per cent plus one majority in a parliament without political parties’, no matter who is behind you, and even Osmani stopped short of getting onto the fatidic seat.

What is certain is that Qanuni and Sayyaf hijacked the use of blank votes as a protesting tool from Ramazan Bashardost who had publicly and proudly displayed his in the first round of voting last Saturday – and showed that without their consent no candidate can win. At the same time, the supporters of both paralyse each other to an extent that they cannot win either.

This leaves a few options for the next WJ session:

a) exhuming a Supreme Court ruling made during the first parliament’s tenure and accept the validity of a simple majority as suggested by Sayyaf (this of course would give him the victory, as till now he has received the highest amount of votes of all candidates that had run so far);

b1) arranging for another round of voting that would probably see another tight Qanuni vs. Sayyaf contest, if it is agreed that candidates who run in the first vote and did abstain from the second one can re-join the competition because also the second field of contenders failed;

b2) the losers of vote 1/round 1 (Mir Wais Yassini and/or Haji Zaher) stage a comeback with more chances to be agreed upon as candidates accepted by the Palace, the Pashtuns and not ostracized by Qanuni and the Northern ‘opposition’. Still, it is unlikely that they can do this before Sayyaf and Qanuni agree on withdrawing, or waste their strength in another confrontation without clear winner.

Apart from working on its internal guidelines and registering new/old candidacies, the house will have to deal with something even more problematic in its next session on Saturday which even threatens the few steps made by the MPs up to now: on Thursday, the Special Court forwarded to the Secretary-General of the Parliament a 36-names list of MPs asked to present themselves to court to answer to accusations of crimes committed during the electoral process(**). It is not clear if they will be called to courts in Kabul or in their respective provinces. It is possible that many in the list are candidates who made it into parliament due to the disqualification by the IEC of previously leading candidates. One of them, Shakir Kargar from Faryab, was interviewed today on the issue (read it here) and said that the assembly will have to decide on the stance to take.

In the case of the ‘disappointed candidates’ (i.e. those who lost according to the hitherto valid final result announced by the IEC), at least, the Special Court has asked in a public statement that they be ready to participate in the sessions of their respective provincial appeal courts that will further decide on the electoral crimes cases. The statement hints at the required presence of all the parliamentary candidates of a given province in those very areas. It is highly unlikely that such a request, which of course would impair the Parliament’s work in its totality, is going to be accepted lightly in Saturday’s Wolesi Jirga session.

(*) The results of the vote are as follow:

Saturday 29 January
first round (245 MPs present):
Qanuni 88, Sayyaf 77, Yassini 44, Zaher 34, blank votes 2
second round (244 MPs present):
Sayyaf 119, Qanuni 116, blank votes 8, invalidated votes 1

Wednesday 2 February
first round (243 MPs present):
Osmani 94, Sultani 48, Gailani 41, Ramin 19, Siawosh 14, blank votes 19, invalidated votes 8
second round (240 MPs present):
Osmani 118, Sultani 30, blank votes 62, invalidated votes 30

(**) Until now, only the 12 provinces of origin of these MPs are known: Kabul, Nangrahar, Kandahar, Zabul, Helmand, Herat, Faryab, Balkh, Samangan, Baghlan, Kunduz, Badakhshan.


Government Jirga Wolesi


Fabrizio Foschini

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