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Afghanistan: Rivals Compete For Parliament Speaker Post

Mohammad Yunos Qanuni (file photo) (RFE/RL) With the certification of the vote count for the 18 September Afghan National Assembly's People's Council (Wolesi Jirga) and Provincial Councils on 12 November, Afghanistan came closer to having its first parliament in place since 1965. With most of Afghanistan's 34 Provincial Councils having completed their local elections and sent members to the National Assembly's Council of Elders (Meshrano Jirga), the National Assembly is ready to convene on 18 December.

In the coming days the main issue of contention will likely revolve around who will be the chairperson of the Wolesi Jirga and thus become the speaker of the National Assembly. The jockeying for this position may shed a little more light on the future political trends of the parliament.
Rabbani's elevation to the post may give further power to the
conservative religious camp at the expense of the more liberal forces
in the National Assembly.

The Contenders

Prior to the September elections, Mohammad Yunos Qanuni, head of the New Afghanistan Party and the unofficial leader of the National Understanding Front -- a loose bloc but the largest opposition political coalition -- was considered the most likely candidate for the highest post in the National Assembly. While Qanuni still remains one of the frontrunners for the speaker post, his position as favorite is being challenged by former Afghan President and Jami'at-e Islami (Islamic Society) head Burhanuddin Rabbani and the leader of the Islamic Unity Party of the People of Afghanistan, Mohammad Mohaqeq.

Rabbani -- like Qanuni -- is a Tajik, while his son-in-law Ahmad Zia Mas'ud is currently the first vice president of Afghanistan. These two factors may have a negative impact on Qanuni's bid to occupy the top job at the National Assembly. In addition, while Qanuni has been championing the rights of the former mujahedin, Rabbani's credentials as the head of one of the major resistance groups to which Qanuni once belonged may cost the him considerable support among the mujahedin.

It is not entirely clear whether Mohaqeq has officially announced his candidacy to be speaker, but he has not ruled it out. Mohaqeq's party is part of Qanuni's coalition and has been regarded as the number two in the opposition bloc to President Hamid Karzai's government. But Mohaqeq handily beat Qanuni in percentage of votes won in Kabul Province with 13.8 percent compared to 8.2 percent for Qanuni. In fact, with 52,686 votes Mohaqeq received more than any other candidate in Afghanistan. However the election of Mohaqeq, an ethnic Hazara, to the National Assembly's highest position may upset the Tajiks, who constitute Afghanistan's second-largest ethnic group after the Pashtuns and may regard the post as theirs.

An Ally For Karzai?

If either Rabbani or Mohaqeq manages to become speaker, then Qanuni's political coalition and his personal political fortunes may be weakened.

The three aforementioned Wolesi Jirga members are not the only candidates for the speaker post, however the chances of the other contenders, including a third Kabul representative, Shokria Barakzai, do not seem very promising.

Of the three leading candidates for the speaker position, Rabbani is the most likely to work with Karzai's government, but Rabbani's elevation to the post may give further power to the conservative religious camp at the expense of the more liberal forces in the National Assembly.

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