Afghanistan Analysts Network – English

Political Landscape

Wolesi Jirga, Next Movement: Andantino con Blackout (amended)

Fabrizio Foschini 5 min

Another two inconclusive sessions – when it comes to the election of the speaker – of the Wolesi Jirga, the Lower House in Kabul, have been held over the Western weekend. But they were worth following, nevertheless, since they brought interesting, ‘anti-authoritarian’ decisions: new candidates will run and not the two main contenders, Sayyaf and Qanuni. And there will be no ‘simple majority’ for the victor, reports AAN’s Fabrizio Foschini.

The Saturday and Sunday sessions of the Wolesi Jirga were all but eventful. On Saturday, the Lower House was stuck in debates about the instrument of the blank vote that has triggered both inconclusive elections of last week. Some MPs were waging war on the right of abstention, asking that such votes be divided in equal parts among candidates running in the election. Others, more moderate, tried to introduce a technical element in their argumentation by suggesting that blank votes were to be respected as a legitimate choice, but invalidated ones (votes scribbled to make them void on purpose, or mistakenly cast in an unclear way) were to be allocated to candidates, meaning that those votes would be divided amongst candidates and then either Sayyaf or Osmani could have reached victory.
Many MPs however did not agree. Ramazan Bashardost cut the discussion short by the strong statement that ‘dividing blank votes among candidates amounted to treason’. He had already summed up his dissatisfaction for the present political situation by complaining about the Afghan people’s inability to reclaim the streets in protest like their Tunisian and Egyptians brethren are doing.

The candidate who almost became the winner of the past round of voting, Sediq Ahmad Osmani, tried to raise the spectre of fraud inside parliament, protesting that the run-off had not been transparent and asking for a recount of his votes in the presence of his delegate. His complaint, however, did not impress many of the other MPs who by now are probably used to fraud and allegations of fraud of a different magnitude to bother. They also noted that he would have better asked for a recount on the same day of the vote, instead of waiting for two days.

Thus, Saturday’s session reached nowhere, in particular as the afternoon session – when the MPs were supposed to deal with the issue that the still surviving Special Court had summoned some of them – was short and hampered by frequent power-cuts.

However, the attitude of many MPs was slowly changing. Probably realizing that the impasse was making them a laughing stock for the already aloof public opinion, they showed increasing irritation at the attitude of the two main contenders, Qanuni and Sayyaf, who were widely believed responsible for the situation. A MP from Paktia, Gul Padsha Majidi, even left the assembly swearing not to come back until more ‘new faces were brought forward’ as candidates.

Even today, notwithstanding that the WJ has already being asked to start its proper work – e.g. to approve 13 regulations sent to it from the Ministry of Justice – the impasse was not overcome, but what had been boiling slowly finally exploded.

Today’s session lasted barely an hour, but it was quite a tense one. At one point, the temporary speaker, the elderly Sarwar Osmani Farahi, even got up from his chair in despair and announced he was quitting his post, managing to get to his coat and bag before the entreaties of the MPs succeeded in bringing him back. Evidently exasperated by reiterated appeals from Sayyaf, asking a ruling of the Constitutional Supervision Commission on the blank votes, and from Qanuni, asking for the previous candidates to be allowed to run again, the majority of the assembly stood against any change of the procedure and against allowing a second chance for failed candidates (some MPs say that it was also Sayyaf’s allies opposing this last idea). This was in fact the content of Shukria Barakzai’s speech, the last before the assembly was adjourned to Tuesday, and which the slamming-desk protest from Qanuni and a couple of dozens of his supporters could not prevent from happening. (Read also a Tolo News report ‘New Candidates to Run for Parliament Speaker’ here.)

There seem to be six or seven new candidates for Tuesday: Latif Pedram (Badakhshan) who had indicated that he would run in earlier round but never did, Khaled Pashtun (Kandahar), Faruq Majruh (Herat) and probably Shukria Barakzai (Kabul) among others; and no changes in the procedure. For this reason, some MPs fear the next round of voting will be as unsuccessful as the previous ones, and wish that victory by a simple majority would have been included as an option for the run-off.

Gul Padsha Majidi, however, gave a more optimistic – albeit caustic – statement to AAN: ‘The more voting sessions we have, the cleaner the process becomes. In the first rounds a lot of pressure was made and a lot of money was funnelled into the WJ from the outside. Now, this game cannot be played forever, and we are hopefully going to see a freer consultation on Tuesday.’

As for the Special Court’s summons, the issue has been barely touched. The MPs have expressed their opposition in principle to some of their colleagues presenting themselves in front of a body they do not recognize. But the threat remains there as a threat, and, as some MP point out, can be used whenever the government needs to scare some of them into obedience – regarding the election of the speaker, or on every other issue.

 

Amendment on 7th and 8th round, written 9 February:

Tuesday’s session which was dedicated to a new attempt to elect a speaker again ended inconclusively. It saw six new candidates competing. Of them, only Hafiz Mansur had indicated to run in earlier rounds but actually never did so. There was no woman amongst the competitors.

With 242 (of 249) MPs present, any nominees who gets 122 votes (50%+1) would be the winner. And this is how round 1 ended:

Abdul Qayum Sajjadi (Hazara from Ghazni): 63 votes
Amanullah Paiman (Tajik from Badakhshan): 54 votes
Maulawi Shahzada Shahed (Pashtun from Kunar): 40 votes
Kamal Naser Usuli (Pashtun from Khost): 38 votes
Eng Monawar Shah Bahadori (Herat): 21 votes
Abdul Hafiz Mansur (Tajik from Kabul) 14 votes
Blank ballots: 8
Invalided ballots: 4

As those of the round before, also this field of six contenders did not represent the main candidates of the ‘Northern’ bloc and ‘the Palace’. The two main contenders, Sayyaf and Qanuni, are observing the process and wait for the MPs (and the public) to get tired of the inconclusiveness. They hope that finally the Wolesi Jirga’s rules of procedure can be amended, adopting the simple majority principle for the vote on the speaker.

This field of six looked like another test balloon, with Paiman possibly supported by Ustad Rabbani, Shahed’s support based on his personal networks in the house and Yasini’s votes, a fellow Eastern pashtun, and Sajjadi relying on the Hazaras (including those with links to Seddiq Mudaber, head of the Office of Administrative Affairs, the powerful quasi-prime-ministry) as well as from the semi-independent Third Line group of parliamentarians led by Shukria Barakzai.

In the second round between the two top runners, Paiman and Sajjadi, no one received the 118-vote majority of the 235 MPs present at that time. Sajjadi ended up ahead with 87 to 69. Again the number of blank and invalidated votes went up in comparison with round 1 (40 and 39 respectively).

At the end of this session, the WJ interim speaker asked new volunteers for the post to register themselves. The next session will be held on Saturday.

Tags:

Government Jirga Wolesi

Authors:

Fabrizio Foschini

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