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Afghanistan's Karzai Insists on Strong Presidency

Afghanistan's transitional president, Hamid Karzai, wants his country, as part of its new constitution, to adopt a system of government that places vast powers in the hands of the president.

With the Afghan grand council, or loya jirga, set to meet Saturday to debate the new constitution, President Hamid Karzai is making his views clear.

He says the new form of government should have a strong president, as called for in the current draft of the constitution. He says that only the authority of a single, strong leader can bring Afghanistan out of the ruins of two decades of civil war.

"In countries where there are no strong institutions, in countries where remnants of conflict are still there, we need a system that will ring with one centrality, not with many centers of power," said Hamid Karzai.

But others disagree.

Some delegates to the loya jirga want to see a parliamentary system established, under which each of the country's ethnic and political groups can have their own representation.

Backers of this approach include some members of the Northern Alliance, the group that joined the United States in overthrowing the Taleban regime in 2001.

As most of the Northern Alliance members are from the Tajik ethnic minority, they feel a more decentralized parliamentary government can better protect their interests.

Mr. Karzai, a member of the Pashtun ethnic group, was installed as Afghanistan's transitional leader after the Taleban was ousted. Once a new constitution is adopted, the country is to hold national elections next year.

Many loya jirga delegates, particularly those elected from the capital Kabul, are close to the Northern Alliance or other groups urging rule by parliament.

Observers say the two conflicting views will likely lead to heated debate when the loya jirga meets.

But President Karzai is hoping for a short council and a quick resolution of constitutional issues.

"We are thinking of a week, maximum of up to 10 days, but then it's up to the members of the loya jirga," he said. "The shorter the better, because each day takes $50,000.

However, some observers, including the many local news organizations, predict the loya jirga could run for as long as a month.