Taking most observers by surprise, the Wolesi Jirga has passed a very long-waited vote of confidence and approved all nine ministers put forward by the president today. It has been more than two years since the current government was formed, but all portfolios are now duly occupied by ministers approved by the Parliament, and not just by acting ones. From different locations, AAN’s Fabrizio Foschini, Obaid Ali and Gran Hewad watched the vote, and, they say, it feels like the final episode of a long-running TV series.
The introduction of the cabinet to the Wolesi jirga (WJ) by President Karzai and its confirmation by the MPs have been the subject of many an AAN blog in the past*. Well, after today’s surprise move, it seems the series could finally be over.
Before the WJ convened, there still were hints that the vote of confidence for the remaining nine ministers of the cabinet, scheduled for Tuesday 6 March, could be delayed for a few more days. All the designated ministers were supposed to present their programs to the house, and in fact its last sessions have been thoroughly busy with this business. Yesterday, it was the turn of Ismail Khan for the Ministry of Water and Energy, Daud Ali Najafi for Transport and Civil Aviation, Amirzai Sangin for Communication and Information Technology and Soraya Dalil for Public Health, and many hours were spent debating and contesting issues. As of today there were still three more would-be ministers – Husn Banu Ghazanfar for Women Affairs, Obaidullah Obaid for Higher Education and Wais Barmak for Rural Reconstruction and Development – due to hold their ‘campaign speeches’ in the WJ and few expected there would be time left for anything else.
However, today’s presentations went off in a matter of few minutes for each of the candidate. The MPs publicly agreed not to question the ministers – in fact not a single MP raised questions or objections to any of the three – and subsequently the WJ proceeded swiftly to the vote.
In fact a major obstacle had been removed two days earlier, on 3 March, when the WJ decided that the ministers who had already been denied a vote of confidence previously could be re-introduced for the same position (read an article from Pajhwok here).
Notwithstanding the opposition of several MPs, notably Ramazan Bashardost, it was first argreed that that parliamentary procedures (in article 76 of the Internal Rules of Procedure of the WJ) do not specify that following a rejection, an individual could not be re-appointed to the same ministry, only that the person could not be re-introduced during the same parliament tenure. This enabled the candidate ministers who had been rejected by the 2005-10 WJ to get confirmed by the one elected in September 2010 , and this interpretation of the relevant part of article 76 was approved by a show of hands by the MPs. The article was amended, the ministers re-introduced and the MPs cast their votes.
Thus, today with an attendance of 240 MPs, the outcome was:
1. Ismail Khan – Ministry of Water and Energy
Blank votes: 19
Invalid votes: 11
2. Daud Ali Najafi – Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation
Blank votes: 15
Invalid votes: 5
3. Soraya Dalil – Ministry of Public Health
Blank votes: 10
Invalid votes: 3
4. Amirzai Sangin – Ministry of Communication and Information Technology
Blank votes: 11
Invalid votes: 4
5. Mirza Hassan Abdullahi – Ministry of Urban Development
Blank votes: 7
Invalid votes: 4
6. Husn Bano Ghazanfar – Ministry of Women Affairs
Blank votes: 13
Invalid votes: 2
7. Obaidullah Obaid – Ministry of Higher Education
Blank votes: 13
Invalid votes: 4
8. Najibullah Awzhan – Ministry of Public Works
Blank votes: 12
Invalid votes: 4
9. Ahmad Wais Barmak – Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development
Blank votes: 9
Invalid votes: 5
It has been a long wait for many of the ministers. Most of the names voted in today were among the first batch originally introduced on 2 January 2010**. Six of the candidates who were proposed then by Karzai, finally made it through today, five in their original position and one, Hassan Abdullahi, in a slightly different one. Possibly, some of these candidates were really valued by the President who sometimes, in subsequent votes, threw in alternative candidates which he thought would not have a real chance to win, and spared his favourites for better times. This was the case with Husn Banu Ghazanfar, Amirzai Sangin and Obaidullah Obaid at Women’s Affairs, Telecommunication and Higher Education respectively. Or consider Wais Barmak, the new Minister of Rehabilitation and Rural Development (MRRD), who finally got to the position originally meant for him after the interregnum of Jarullah Mansuri. The latter’s position was weakened by a scandal right at the moment of his confirmation, when The Guardian received some documents proving that Mansuri was three years younger than the required age to be appointed as minister (read here). Although he did not resign then, he did so quietly last week when the new (old) candidate was re-introduced. As for Hassan Abdullahi, his designation has just been switched from Public Works to Urban Development, the former position going to a newcomer, Najibullah Awzhan.
Other heavyweights, like Ismail Khan, seem to have had an agreement with the President that their post would not be under discussion. In fact, nobody else has ever been suggested for the position of Minister of Water and Energy since Ismail Khan was first rejected in January 2010. In the absence of an alternative, his candidacy was potentially one of the most troublesome, as the former Amir of Herat would not have appreciated the humiliation of another rejection (he still received the most ‘no’ votes, although only 35 MPs against him is still his best record result so far). Finally, allies who have been useful to Karzai in the past finally managed to get their reward, like Daud Ali Najafi, the former IEC chair, also at his second attempt.
Of course, a lot of reports floated about the amount of mehmani (invitation to parties, dinners, other gifts, bribes) that the designated ministers offered to MPs to propitiate their confirmation. This, however, was true also for the previous votes and did not always lead to the expected results. It is possible that the would-be ministers learned through experience to invest their money – or to shower promises of political favours – in a wiser way, and thus avoided the risk that MPs promised support first, ate the cake and did not deliver their votes afterwards.
It is also possible that the WJ as a whole has figured out that the present situation is not beneficial to anybody except, perhaps Karzai himself. If this in the past two years has been able to exercise more and more his personal writ in matters of exceptional importance, it is also thanks to the absence of an active Parliament and a complete cabinet. In view of the recent debates in the WJ about the failure of many ministries to spend as much as 40 per cent of their budgets, the MPs may have decided not to help lengthen such an irregular situation further, where acting ministers could not be expected to work to their best or to be held properly accountable.
Or, maybe more realistically, MPs may have realised they were quite powerless to prevent the acting ministers from continuing in their jobs, without this creating serious enough concerns to the government. In fact, in the corridors of the WJ people admitted that the same designated ministers, as a more informal part of their efforts at convincing the MPs to accept them, pointed to this state of affairs.
Whatever the true reason for today’s triumphal completion of the cabinet – which does not reflect an overall hegemony of the pro-Karzai faction inside the WJ, but rather the shifting focus of parliamentary groupings – we can just hope it will enable them to become more effective during their remaining two years of tenure. Better late than never. President Karzai did not loose time in expressing his satisfaction over the result of the vote with a message on his office website.
However, this does not, by any means, represent the settlement of all irregularities inside Afghan institutions. The Chief Justice and four out of nine members of the Supreme Court saw their tenures expire one year ago, and new candidates have not been designated by the President yet; and the Attorney General and some members of the independent commissions are in the same position. There is still a long way before the institutionalised incompleteness of the last few years is overcome.
* For the previous three rounds of WJ votes in 2010 read here; here and here; for further comments read here; here; here; here; here; here and here).
** Here we present short biographies for those designated ministers who had not already been featured in previous blogs:
Ismail Khan, Minister of Water and Energy: born in 1947 in Shindand district of Herat, and a graduate of the Military Academy, he joined the mujahedin to become the principal commander in the West, allied to the Jamiat-e Islami faction, and the governor of Herat in 1992. He held the same position between 2001-2004, and has served as Minister of Water and Energy since 2005.
Amirzai Sangin, Minister of Communication and Information Technology: born in Paktia in 1947, he obtained a masters degree in Telecommunication and Electricity in England.
Mirza Hasan Abdullahi, Minister of Urban Development: born in 1976 in Ghor province, he received his higher education in Iran and has served as deputy mayor of Kabul and deputy minister of MRRD.
Husn Banu Ghazanfar, Minister of Women Affairs: born in 1957 in Balkh, she has a masters degree in Literature and Sociology and served as Dean of the Faculty of Literature at Kabul University.
Najibullah Awzhan, Ministry of Public Works: born in Ghazni, he graduated from the Polytechnic and served in various capacities the PAMA (Central Institute for Projects Management) under the PDPA and Rabbani governments. He also worked as advisor to the MRRD and is the owner of a private construction company.
Wais Barmak, Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development: born in 1972 in Panjshir, he worked at senior levels in the United Nations, obtained a masters degree in Development Studies from England and was program director with the National Solidarity Program (NSP).
This article was last updated on 9 Mar 2020