After a seemingly unending process, almost unexpectedly, the Wolesi jirga has a speaker, with today’s election of Haji Abdul Rauf Ibrahimi, an Uzbek as desired. AAN’s Gran Hewad and coleagues try to shed light on his background and the way he has been (s)elected.
The Wolesi Jirga has finally found its speaker, one month and two days after its inauguration, after its members sat through sixteen sessions, and after eighteen candidates competed in four rounds of elections. The interim speaker, Muhammad Sarwar Osmani Farahi, resigned this morning – after repeated complaints that he was not up to the task of managing the MPs – and was replaced by Khodadad Erfani, just before the election of the real speaker finally took place.
The use of blank votes that so far prevented the election of any speaker will be remembered as the main instrument that created the impasse which had characterized the new parliament’s initial weeks. The next sessions will tell whether the chosen speaker is the right person to restore parliament’s cohesiveness, whether he has the capacity to fulfil his role and will be able to keep the unruly assembly in check, and whether he can bridge the gap between the supporters of the actual two contenders, those of the now former speaker Yunos Qanuni and his wannabe successor Abdulrabb Rassul Sayyaf. For the moment many observers are just trying to find out more about Haji Abdul Rauf personally.
Haji Abdul Rauf Ibrahimi is possibly one of the least known and spoken-of members of the Afghan Lower House. Several friends with good knowledge of Afghan politics have been making calls to AAN to ascertain whether Rauf Ibrahimi really did become the speaker, and if yes, who he was. The website of one news agency had wrongly reported him as a representative of Jowzjan province (in fact he is from Kunduz).
Ibrahimi is the first Uzbek leading one of the three powers of the government in the history of Afghanistan (read our earlier blog discussing the reasons here). He represents the people of the north-eastern province of Kunduz which, having large Tajik and Pashtuns populations, is not an ‘Uzbek’ province. A Hezb-e Islami commander during the jihad, he joined the ranks of Jombesh-e Melli Islami (led by General Abdul Rashid Dostum) during the ethnic polarisation of politics that accompanied the civil war of 1992-94. Within Jombesh, he belonged to the north-eastern Uzbek commanders’ network (the northeast not being the core Jombesh region). Notwithstanding this long affiliation, he has recently re-approached his former party or – more correctly – a breakaway group of it, registered under the name of Hezb-e Muttahid-e Islami-ye Afghanistan and led by Wahidullah Sabawun. Sabawun was the former deputy of mainstream Hezb-e Islami-ye Afghanistan under Gulbuddin Hekmatyar (today often called HIG), who – in contrast to Hekmatyar – had joined the government of the Islamic State of Afghanistan under Prof. Rabbani as Minister of Finance in the late 1990s.
Haji Abdul Rauf Ibrahimi belongs to a well-known family of mujahedin background from Imam Saheb district which shares a border with Tajikistan. His elder brother Amir Latif Ibrahimi has been governor of Takhar, Faryab and Kunduz in the past. Already elected into the Wolesi Jirga in 2005, Ibrahimi received the highest amount of votes (6978) amongst the eight candidates from his province in last year’s vote.
During today’s vote – which was, as usual in the Wolesi Jirga, done by the raising of either red or green cards and with only one candidate, to increase the chances of the impasse being ended – he collected 173 green cards in his favour (*) and achieved the speakership.
The two main original contenders Qanuni and Sayaf now may be waiting to see whether they can play a role in the executive or judicial branches of the government (both are rumoured to have been offered positions). They anyhow chose not to work against the decision of the special commission appointed by the MPs to find a solution. The commission proposed to elect a speaker who had not been a candidate in previous rounds and who belonged to an ethnic minority groups, without changing the rules of procedure (in particular the absolute majority rule for speaker elections). Their proposal was designed to overcome what was perceived by many as as a Pashtun-Tajik stalemate and also to combat the minorities’ feelings of marginalisation.
The acceptance of the outcome of the commission’s work seems to have been facilitated by some sort of entente between prominent Pashtun and Hazara MPs, who agreed that they wanted to prevent a Tajik from taking the speaker position again, after Qanuni’s tenure in the past parliament. But an ‘ethnic’ analysis of the matter alone is not sufficient. For the government this was not so much about preventing a ‘Tajik’ from becoming speaker, but rather ‘some specific Tajiks’, namely Qanuni or others that it perceives as ‘opposition’ (i.e. either belonging to or sympathising with the Change and Hope coalition led by Dr Abdullah). In fact one of the candidates who probably received most government support was Sediq Ahmad Osmani, himself an ethnic Tajik, but with a different political background.
Currently, meetings and discussions are ongoing among the Qanuni and Sayyaf supporters as to how to fill the remaining empty seats in the Wolesi Jirga’s administrative board (two deputy speakers and two secretaries).
Beyond any doubt, today’s election is an important step forward for the Wolesi Jirga, as it will allow it to finally start its work. There are rumours, however, that the rules of procedure may be amended to reduce the speaker’s authority – which could be part of a deal the potential speaker was asked to accept before the vote. We should also not forget that there are articles in the internal rules of procedure that discuss the possibility of discharging the speaker in specific situations. Potential hunters for the position will be carefully looking at the speaker’s behaviour.
Update (28 February):
Meanwhile, on Monday, the Wolesi Jirga has held election for the four other open positions in the house’s leadership, for the First and the Second Deputy Speaker as well as for the Wolesi Jirga’s Secretary and the Assistant Secretary. In two of the four cases, the vote ended successfully. In a replay of the Speaker’s election, however, the second most important post, that of the First Deputy Speaker, remained open.
Neither of the two candidates for this position was able to muster today’s majority of 114 votes (of 226 MPs present). Abdul Ahad Afzali from Badakhshan, a descendent of King Amanullah’s (r. 1919-29) foreign minister Muhammad Wali Khan Darwazi, a former activist of leftwing ethno-nationalist SAZA, deputy governor of his home province and governor of Ghor province (2005-06), received 108 votes. His opponent Nader Khan Katawazai, a Suleimankhel Pashtun from Paktika province and – as former PDPA sympathizer – another former leftwinger now seen as close to Karzai (but not uncritically so) with 103 votes. A second round will be held tomorrow (Tuesday).
The post of Second Deputy Speaker went to Ahmad Behzad with 124 votes, a former journalist, who gained a reputation as one of the most outspoken opposition figures in the 2005-10 Wolesi Jirga, linked with Qanuni. The high score seems to indicate that he has gained respect across political and ethnic lines. Behzad won against Abdul Wali Niazi, another Badakhshi (57 votes) and (Ms.) General Nazefa Zaki from Kabul (26 votes) a graduate of Kabul’s police academy who had herself portrayed in her uniform on her campaign posters.
Abdul Qader Qalatwal from Zabul province, another former Khalqi who also was a TV presenter for 23 years, was successful in his bid for the Wolesi Jirga’s Secretary position (120 votes). He went ahead of another Herati of a prominent family, Muhammad Saleh Seljuqi (89).
For his deputy, there will be another round between Farhad Azemi, the head of Balkh’s provincial council (76 votes) against female Farah MP Homeira Ayubi, a teacher and school principle (68). The third contender, the kuchi (nomads’) representative Haji Haidar Jan Naimzoi dropped out with 57 votes only. There were also 53 blank and 26 invalided votes in this competition.
(*) Update: The reports on how many votes Ibrahimi received differ. The final seems to be that there were 173 MPs present and that all but four of them – ie 169 – raised the green card (including Bashardost), while four voted against.
This article was last updated on 9 Mar 2020