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100 delegates threaten to boycott voting: Loya jirga in disarray

December 31, 2003

KABUL, Dec 30: Afghanistan’s loya jirga, or grand assembly, was thrown into disarray on Tuesday as more than 100 delegates threatened to boycott voting on the amended constitution, alleging that it had been tampered with.

The disgruntled delegates, who included members of Northern Alliance factions who favour a parliamentary system instead of the proposed presidential system, and ethnic Hazaras and Uzbeks, remained in the main tent as the rest of the 502 delegates split into groups to have the voting process explained.

“There is no transparency in the loya jirga,” former president Burhanuddin Rabbani told reporters, explaining his reasons for remaining in the tent.

“A number of people prefer their personal interests and they’re playing with the will of the nation,” he said.

Mr Rabbani said the amended draft did not reflect the findings of a committee of delegates, which at the weekend finished work trying to reconcile the views of those who support the strong presidential system favoured by President Hamid Karzai and those, like Rabbani, who want a parliamentary system, or at least a strong legislature as a counterbalance.

Delegate Hashmat Ghani, brother of Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani, on Monday accused Burhanuddin Rabbani and other powerful mujahideen leaders of trying to impose their views on the committees, which had earlier discussed and amended the draft.

“Our demands do not appear in the amended draft,” delegate Zakia said.

“There has been interference in the work of the reconciliation committee,” she said, surrounded by dozens of women delegates. “We want a presidential system with a strong parliament.”

“We want to limit the president’s power and give some of his authority to the parliament,” said delegate Shir Pacha.

“Some of the general agreements made in the reconciliation committee do not appear in the amended draft. We commented on that yesterday and today, but nobody paid any attention,” Mr Pacha said.

“Lots of things have been imposed on delegates, that’s why we’ve threatened to boycott unless they accept our demands,” he said.

“If the constitutional commission and the opposition accept our demands there won’t need to be any voting (on amendments) and the constitution will be approved today.”

European Union representative Francesc Vendrell and United Nations officials were attempting to mediate between the opposing sides.

Voting on the amended document, which will pave the way for Afghanistan’s first democratic elections, had been expected to begin on Monday, but delegates called for changes to several articles and the introduction of four new ones.

Dozens of supporters of Abdul Hafiz Mansour, leader of a mujahideen (anti-Soviet fighters) faction who favours a parliamentary system, earlier caused uproar by claiming ministers had interfered with the amended draft.

Now into its third week, it is not known when the loya jirga, which has been dubbed the “loya jagra” (“big fighting”) by some Afghans, will finish. It opened on Dec 14 and was originally expected to take 10 days.

After more than two weeks of wrangling, President Hamid Karzai, however, looks poised to secure backing for a constitution supporting his preferred presidential form of government, with few changes.

Even some delegates who would like a parliamentary system have backed President Karzai’s view that a strong presidential system is needed after decades of war because Afghanistan lacks mature political parties necessary for a successful parliamentary democracy.

So far few major changes have been made to the president’s powers in the amended draft.

Other changes included the specific mention of women having equal rights to men.

Voting on the amended 160-article draft is by simple majority, except on proposals to introduce a new article, which require a two-thirds approval. —AFP