Boycott mars Loya Jirga voting
KABUL: Up to a quarter of the 502 delegates thrashing out a new Afghan constitution refused to vote on Thursday, as ethnic divisions threatened to undermine a draft charter backed by the United States.
After lengthy delays, men and women from across the country lined up to begin voting inside a giant tent on a Kabul college campus on proposed amendments to the 160-article draft document, including one giving women more seats in parliament. The draft outlines a strong presidential system with a limited role for parliament. It would make Islam the official religion but without the Islamic sharia law enforced by the hardline Taliban regime toppled from power two years ago.
Interim leader Hamid Karzai has endorsed the draft, as have supporters in Washington who want to see him run for president in elections in June. Karzai argues that a strong presidency is needed to rebuild the country after two decades of civil strife. But his opponents at the constitutional Loya Jirga, or Grand Assembly, have criticised the process, saying it threatens to create an autocratic political system that sidelines minority groups such as the Tajiks, Uzbeks and Hazaras.
Karzai is from the largest ethnic group, the Pashtuns, and the constitution could return the group to its traditional position at the centre of power.
“I am...concerned that there is an ethnic polarisation that was unnecessary that could be, if allowed to continue, very damaging,” said the EU’s envoy to Afghanistan Francesc Vendrell. He added he hoped it was a “temporary explosion.”
Delegates said talks between rival groups would be held on Friday with the full assembly reconvening on Saturday. The Loya Jirga had been scheduled to last for 10 days, but behind-the-scenes wrangling and protests during sessions inside the tent have dragged the assembly into its 18th day. —Agencies