Mon, Dec 22, 2003 - Page 5 News List

President wins in Afghan Constitution

HISTORIC DISCUSSIONS President Hamid Karzai's controversial presidential system laid down in the draft has won increasing favor from delegates after negotiations


President Hamid Karzai appeared to be emerging as the main winner at a historic meeting to discuss Afghanistan's constitution as delegates edged towards agreeing his vision for the future.

Discussions were due to continue yesterday on the country's new draft constitution that looks increasingly likely to back a controversial system of wide-ranging presidential powers.

The strong presidential system laid down in the draft has been one of the most divisive issues at the Loya Jirga ("grand assembly") which makes few concessions to any form of power-sharing, either within the government or between Kabul and the provinces.

Several of the 502 delegates, including some powerful mujahidin (anti-Soviet fighters), have said they would prefer a prime minister or at least a parliament with real teeth to counter-balance sweeping presidential powers.

"According to the information we have, the majority of the delegates have agreed on a presidential system or have said they would support a presidential system," said Safia Siddiqi, one of the four deputy chairmen to the Loya Jirga.

"We will know whether the future government will be presidential or parliamentary after the committees finish their work and they vote in an open session for a specific type of government," she told reporters on Saturday. "We have to wait and see the majority's decision."

Critics have warned that if too much power is in the hands of the president, it risks widening the country's deep ethnic and factional divides.

Karzai on Saturday repeated that he would only stand in next year's presidential polls if the Loya Jirga approves the presidential system.

With Afghanistan slowly emerging from decades of conflict, delegates appeared to have backed Karzai's view that a strong presidential system was needed as the country lacked mature political parties for a successful parliamentary democracy.

Karzai also hailed the progress the Loya Jirga had made since its opening last Sunday on debating the 160-article document which will pave the way for the country's transition to democracy at elections scheduled for June next year.

"It's not slow progress; it's very good progress," he told reporters. "The work of the Loya Jirga is going very well," he said.

Delegates, who include some 100 women, have been divided into 10 groups to discuss the 160-article draft before coming together for open sessions, which are held in a huge white tent set up in the heavily guarded Kabul polytechnic campus.

"The 10 committees continue to work on the constitution," said Mohammad Azam Dadfar, first deputy chairman of the Loya Jirga.

"Things are going normally and according to the schedule. They have worked on around 70 articles and the discussion is still going on," he said.

Karzai said the constitution could be ratified by the end of December but was not worried if the Loya Jirga dragged on.

"Let the Loya Jirga take as much time as it needs to," said Karzai, who had earlier expressed the hope it could be over in seven to 10 days.

Women delegates are also calling for equal rights to be enshrined in the constitution, which does not explicitly state that both sexes enjoy equal rights.

The US has also raised concerns about the extent to which religious freedom is protected due to the wording of the draft.

Streets around the Loya Jirga site have been sealed off while foreign peacekeepers, newly trained Afghan soldiers, police and secret service agents provided tight security amid threats from Taliban militants who claimed responsibility for three rockets which hit Kabul early on Tuesday but hurt no-one.

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