So far, it has been very predictable: the battle for speaker of the lower house is being fought between Qanooni and Sayyaf, each protégés of Abdullah Abdullah and Karzai, respectively.
But Sayyaf’s showing in the various rounds of voting has been surprising. Pundits had predicted that given the diminished numbers of Pashtun MPs — Sayyaf’s co-ethnics and most natural allies — his chances for speakership would be damaged accordingly. That is not true. After two rounds of voting, he actually holds a slight lead over Qanooni and is doing better than he did five years ago when he had more allies.
This is in part to Sayyaf’s own jostling which, knowing the culture of bargaining in the Wolesi Jirga, likely includes offers of cash to other MPs. And it is despite the fact that the Hazara MPs, the third largest bloc, were believed to vote for Qanooni.
But Sayyaf’s position is bolstered most significantly by support from Karzai. Although the president has fallen into disrepute in the international community and is emerging from a scathing defeat in the parliamentary elections, he shouldn’t be discounted. As president, he still retains massive discretionary powers that he is using to bargain in favor of Sayyaf.
Karzai’s support and subsequent bargaining for Sayyaf suggests that the president is invested in the parliament as it is. This is encouraging news because by attempting to have an ally as speaker, he can get the consolation prize and use it to navigate the issue of the controversial special court he has set up to review election results.