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Afghanistan: Qanuni Brokers His Way To Parliament Speaker

Mohammad Yunos Qanuni (file photo) (AFP) After backdoor political maneuverings and a heated contest, Mohammad Yunos Qanuni, head of the New Afghanistan Party and the unofficial leader of the National Understanding Front -- the largest opposition bloc -- was elected speaker of the Afghan National Assembly's People's Council (Wolesi Jirga) on 21 December.

Qanuni, who was considered the most likely candidate for the speaker post before the People's Council and Provincial Council elections in September, actually had to break with his allies at the time and bond with former brothers in arms to secure the position. (See also:Rivals Compete For Parliament Speaker Post)

The Contenders

One of Qanuni's top competitors for the speaker position was the leader of the Islamic Unity Party of the People of Afghanistan, Mohammad Mohaqeq, whose party is part of the National Understanding Front. Another challenger for the post was former Afghan President and Jami'at-e Islami (Islamic Society) head Burhanuddin Rabbani. Qanuni used to be a member of Jami'at-e Islami.

Karzai also scored a victory in the Council of Elders (Meshrano Jirga), where Sebghatullah Mojaddedi was elected speaker.

During the election process for the speaker's position, Mohaqeq dropped out in favor of the archconservative leader of Afghanistan's Islamic Mission Organization, Abd al-Rabb al-Rasul Sayyaf. Ironically, some of the bloodiest and most horrific battles after the collapse of the communist regime in Kabul in 1992 were waged between forces loyal to Sayyaf and followers of the Hizb-e Wahdat (Unity Party), to which Mohaqeq belonged. Despite being rivals in the past, Mohaqeq withdrew his candidacy after Sayyaf promised him the position of first deputy speaker.

In order to thaw relations between Sayyaf and Mohaqeq, Qanuni apparently sought and gained the support of Rabbani, who then dropped out of the race, leaving Sayyaf and Qanuni as the main contenders. At the end of the day Qanuni emerged victorious with 122 votes against Sayyaf's 117.

On 22 December, one day after being elected speaker, Qanuni said that he cannot continue as head of the opposition bloc and thus resigned as leader of the National Understand Front.

It is not clear what concessions Rabbani got from Qanuni, but the former president remains the most important power broker in Afghanistan. During the presidential elections in 2004, Rabbani threw his lot in with Hamid Karzai against Qanuni and got his son-in-law, Ahmad Zia Mas'ud, positioned as first vice president.

Qanuni's decision not to remain as the leading opposition voice is a clear, albeit short-term victory for President Karzai, who now has to guard against the formation of an alliance of hard-line conservative Islamists.

Support For The President?

Karzai also scored a victory in the Council of Elders (Meshrano Jirga), where Sebghatullah Mojaddedi was elected speaker. During the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, Karzai worked for Mojaddedi's National Liberation Front of Afghanistan and has remained close to him.

Qanuni's election as speaker of the People's Council is not a surprise, though the manner in which it occurred was somewhat unexpected. It will be interesting to watch the legislature's actions to see whether Afghanistan's new National Assembly will serve as a rubber stamp for the government or act as the responsible legislative branch of a budding democracy.

Afghanistan Votes

Afghanistan Votes

RFE/RL's complete coverage of the historic September 18, 2005, legislative elections in Afghanistan.