Winning without competing: a broker’s tale

Looking at the ways in which the eight presidential candidates from the first round have played their cards over the last few weeks, it is easy to see why they nominated themselves for the race. Many, without even a hope of winning, have used the elections to self-aggrandize (further) in the public consciousness, and to trade their support bases for potential influence later on under an Abdullah or Ghani administration.   But aside from the candidates themselves, other, perhaps more critical players are emerging: those who are brokering the deals. And while Karzai has long been attempting to establish himself as the foremost of kingmakers, here, his success seems overshadowed by that of Yunous Qanooni.

Former Speaker of the Lower House and prominent Panjshiri, Qanooni’s political influence has been relatively consistent since the beginning of the Bonn Process. After five years as Speaker, he was ousted from the elected post but retained considerable influence over parliamentary affairs. Known widely as ‘the arsonist and the firefighter of the House’ his ability to manipulate the outcome of internal parliamentary votes and determine the content and timing of legislative agendas has been second to none. At once close to and yet a critic of President Karzai, he has navigated a path of ‘neutral’ mediation between the president and legislative that has won him points on both sides – putting him in an excellent position to mediate between minor presidential candidates and the two frontrunners.

So what is it that Qanooni gains from this intermediary role? First, public notoriety as the person to deal with high level disputes – and as such, overtaking Karzai in his reputation for mediation. Second, the potential for enormous pay-offs from grateful frontrunners whose campaigns he has boosted with the additional support of other significant players. Whether these are financial, or in kind, in terms of guaranteed positions of influence for Qanooni himself and/or his supporters in the next government , the rewards for these kinds of services could be considerable. And finally, the prospect of a presidential campaign in 2019. Qanooni’s ability to negotiate difficult deals between otherwise antagonistic parties is now, more than ever, a publically recognized characteristic – and one which would fit nicely the role of Afghan president, historically synonymous with the juggling of international and domestic interests. With Abdullah potentially paving the way for a first ‘non-Pashtun’ president, the chances for Qanooni seem ever more open as the political landscape changes.

 

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