KABUL, Afghanistan — Fistfights broke out and furniture was smashed in Afghanistan’s Parliament on Wednesday as disagreement about who should lead the country’s new lower house dragged into its second month.
The crisis in Parliament, some of which has been televised, has often broken into violence and has become the most vivid manifestation of Afghanistan’s political fragility as the United States pushes the Taliban to sit down with the government in the hopes of securing a deal to end the country’s long war.
It also comes as President Ashraf Ghani’s term in office has expired, with opposition leaders questioning his legitimacy to continue as leader. He remains in office based on an extension granted by the Supreme Court until a delayed presidential election is held in September.
The latest episode of parliamentary violence erupted when supporters of one lawmaker, Mir Rahman Rahmani, tried to forcibly seat him at the speaker’s desk over the protests of his rival, Kamal Naser Osuli.
Mr. Rahmani won the most votes in an internal election for the speakership last month, but Mr. Osuli, who received about 70 fewer votes, blocked Mr. Rahmani on a technicality. Mr. Osuli says that Mr. Rahmani missed the required majority by a single vote, in a count in which one vote was disputed as invalid.
“As they went out to bring Rahmani from his office, other lawmakers rushed to the stage and started throwing out the speaker’s desk and seat,” Breshna Rabi, a member of Parliament from the northern province of Balkh, said of Wednesday’s brawl. “They threw away all the furniture.”
“No one listens or respects each other,” Ms. Rabi added. “No one tolerates each other. We don’t know what to do.”
As Mr. Rahmani’s supporters brought him to the stage to seat him, Mr. Osuli’s supporters broke the speaker’s desk and flung the chair into the hall.
A fellow lawmaker, Malalai Ishaqzai, said she had become frustrated about Parliament’s behavior even before the session broke into a brawl. “We have no honor outside,” she told other members of Parliament. “You have come here from the streets. May God destroy you all.”
The disagreement has largely been over the single disputed ballot that would have allowed Mr. Rahmani to become speaker. In addition to a tick mark, the ballot has an extra dot on it — an addition that Mr. Osuli and his supporters say makes the ballot invalid.
Just how that extra dot ended up on the ballot may speak to a larger phenomenon in Afghan politics: the influence of money.
In private, lawmakers say that many members of Parliament cast their votes for a price. But votes in the Afghan Parliament are cast secretly and then counted in the open. As proof that they have fulfilled their promise for the money, lawmakers will leave agreed-on evidence on the ballot.
“I can confirm that money was involved in the voting,” said Atta Mohammad Dehqanpor, the temporary speaker, who oversaw the vote. “I saw almost all lawmakers who went to the booth to tick their ballot tried to take a photo of the ballot — meaning they wanted to show to whomever they voted for that they had really voted and this is the proof.”
Despite their inability to elect a speaker, which was their first task as members of the new Parliament, the lawmakers said that they had still received their first paycheck — about $2,200.
The new Parliament was inaugurated in late April after elections that had been delayed for three years and were widely seen as fraudulent and mismanaged.
The results of that vote, announced after all the officials overseeing the election were fired amid accusations of corruption, faced considerable outcry from candidates who questioned the transparency and legitimacy of the results. Several defeated candidates held protests, and some went on hunger strike outside the presidential palace, claiming that the country’s leadership had meddled in the results.
Analysts and diplomats in Kabul, the Afghan capital, worry that the messy parliamentary elections and the dispute over the speakership are omens for what is to come in September’s presidential election, when the stakes are much higher.
A dispute over Afghanistan’s last presidential elections, in 2014, nearly tore the country apart. The stalemate was resolved only when the American secretary of state stepped in to broker a coalition government.
The political environment has since grown even more toxic, and the most recent parliamentary elections, held in October, largely turned disastrous as a test run for anti-fraud mechanisms.
The cycle of troubled elections is exacerbated as officials who oversee the problematic votes often receive prized political appointments. But Western officials also blame international donors who fund the elections.
One senior Western official in Kabul, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid angering his colleagues, said the donor countries were enabling the situation by ignoring clear evidence of wrongdoing, poor accountability and insufficient preparation.
Intizar Khadem, a political analyst in Kabul, said the repeated failure of election officials and weak voting laws had created a cycle that could eventually lead to a collapse of governance in Afghanistan.
“This process is building an unhealthy political culture,” Mr. Khadim said. “There is no political commitment.”