Afghans choose a democratic system

Posted in Broader Middle East | 02-Jan-04 | Author: Carlotta Gall| Source: The New York Times

KABUL - The loya jirga, or grand council, which has been meeting for more than a week in Kabul to create a constitution, has overwhelmingly opted for a democratic system, specifically the strong presidential system advocated by President Hamid Karzai.

In a major success for Karzai and his UN and American supporters, delegates said Monday that all 10 of the groups formed to discuss the draft had voted to adopt the presidential system. The 502 loya jirga delegates were broken up into 10 committees to discuss in detail the articles of the draft constitution over the last few days.

The final draft and proposed amendments must still be put to a vote of the full assembly this week, but with every committee supporting a presidential system, is it likely to pass. Some delegates boycotted the committees, but their opposition is thought not to be strong enough to alter the overall support.

"The fundamentalists will resist and push for a parliamentary system, but we have the votes," said Abdul Hakim Nurzai, a deputy of a new political party, the National Unity Movement, and one of the delegates. Nurzai said that his committee had voted, 43 to 0, to adopt a strong presidential system and that all the other committees had voted in a similar fashion. Another delegate said only one man in his committee had supported a parliamentary system.

"For the moment," he said during an afternoon prayer break, "all the districts are controlled by warlords, so this would not allow for free elections and we would end up with a parliament of warlords. We prefer a strong president to break the power of the warlords, and to prepare for free and fair elections."

A committee of 15 will now tabulate all the votes and the suggested amendments from the 10 committees, said Safia Seddiqui, a spokeswoman for the council chairman. Then, a select committee will draw up a final draft to be put before the assembly in the next few days. The final session could take place Wednesday or Thursday, allowing the council to break up by Friday, officials said.

Some committees said they had voted for amendments to curb the powers of the president, while others said they had chosen to accept the powers laid out in the draft. If 150 delegates support an amendment, it will be up for debate by the full plenary session.

Despite fears that the loya jirga would be highjacked by extremists, or dragged into protracted debate over the role of Islam and women's and human rights, it has nevertheless been progressing well, Jawed Ludin, a presidential spokesman, said at a news briefing.

Government ministers and officials from Karzai's immediate circle had assiduously lobbied for the presidential system. But they also expressed surprise at the voice of moderation that had prevailed on many occasions, despite the strong conservative and religious constituencies of the delegates.

"I'm rather encouraged to see that all in all, there is enough resistance to the demagoguery that one feared - especially about Islam," the UN special representative to Afghanistan, Lakhdar Brahimi, said in an interview over the weekend.

Several delegates interviewed said their committees had rejected proposed amendments to include more references to Islam. But others predicted that religious conservatives would renew their efforts to Islamicize the constitution at the open plenary session.

Women's rights and human rights may also be curbed by the assembly. Three delegates said their respective committees had voted to respect international conventions of human rights "within the parameters of Islam."

"We accept human rights as long as they do not go against Islam," Nurzai said. Afghans do not accept some international rights, like a woman's right to divorce, and equal-inheritance rights, he said. Afghans do not want their daughters to marry non-Afghans, said Shaheeda Hosseini, a leading women's representative from Kandahar.