Accessibility links

Afghan Constitutional Assembly Begins Difficult Task - 2003-12-15

Afghanistan's constitutional assembly is beginning the difficult task of creating a new government for the country. Differences in the views of the assembly delegates are already surfacing. One of the most important choices facing the Afghan constitutional grand council, or loya jirga, is whether to have a presidential or parliamentary government.

Transitional President Hamid Karzai has been lobbying for the system that concentrates most of the powers of state in the hands of a single, strong president. Such a system is outlined in the draft constitution, prepared earlier this year by the transitional government.

Others attending the loya jirga want a parliamentary system, which would spread power among the various social and ethnic groups of Afghanistan.

Some delegates say Sunday's election of Sabghatullah Mujadidi as loya jirga chairman marks a small victory for those favoring a presidential government. Mr. Mujadidi, who served briefly as Afghanistan's president in 1992, is closely associated with Mr. Karzai, who served in the Mujadidi administration. As chairman, Mr. Mujadidi will supervise debate and divide the delegates into 10 committees to discuss and suggest amendments to the draft constitution.

Some international observers, such as United Nations spokesman Manoel de Almeida e Silva, note that Mr. Mujadidi captured more than half the votes. He says that suggests most of the delegates will be able to agree on the issue. "They got to a good start by electing the chairman by [an] absolute majority," he says. "And let's hope they'll continue in this mood of consensus throughout the days to come."

Another issue likely to meet with debate is whether Dari, the language spoken in Afghanistan's north, should hold equal status with Pashto, the language of the country's majority. While the draft constitution names both languages as official, some Pashto-speaking delegates may demand special status for their language, as was the case in many previous Afghan governments.

Religiously conservative members of the loya jirga could also demand a stronger role for Islam. The draft describes Afghanistan as an Islamic state but does not call for adoption of strict Islamic law.

The loya jirga opened on Sunday, and is expected to run for at least seven days. After a constitution is approved, the government will hold elections in mid-2004.