Presidential Powers Cause Concern

Institute for War & Peace Reporting, UK,,
January 21, 2004

By Danish Karokhel in Kabul (ARR No. 101, 21-Jan-04)
(Author is a local trainer/editor with IWPR in Kabul)


Some fear interim President Hamed Karzai will try to solidify his current position before a parliament is actually elected.

Now that Afghanistan's new constitution has been approved by the recent Loya Jirga, the biggest remaining question is how interim President Hamed Karzai will use the sweeping presidential powers he fought so hard to acquire.

Karzai's rivals fear he will use the time before presidential elections to tighten his own grip on power and ensure is election scheduled in June.

Abdul Shakoor Waqef Hakimi, a delegate at the Loya Jirga and cultural director of the powerful Jamiat-e-Islami party, said there is widespread concern that Karzai will be able to impose a virtual dictatorship until a new parliament is elected and in place.

During the Constitutional Loya Jirga, Jamiat led a push for a parliamentary rather than presidential system and sought the creation of an interim parliament until general elections are held.

But it only succeeded in getting a clause inserted in the final document that states that "every effort" would be made for presidential and parliamentary elections to be held simultaneously.

"There was fear but unfortunately the voice of the solid majority was ignored on some issues," said Hakimi.

Until such time as there are parliamentary elections, Karzai is answerable to no one in issuing decrees as well as making appointments to many key posts.

He will also have a hand in selecting all the members of the independent commission which will oversee implementation of the constitution, which may well prove a powerful force in deciding how much real impact the new basic law has.

Such an arrangement, Hakimi said, undermines the commission's independence. "What is the point [of having such a panel] if the president chooses the members of the commission," he asked. "Why spend more money on this?"

Abdul Kabir Ranjbar, the head of Afghanistan Lawyers Association and a Kabul delegate at the Loya Jirga, also worries about the potential for unelected officials to abuse their powers during this transitional period.

"The team now in power does not believe in democracy," said Ranjbar. He said his criticism was directed less at Karzai than the people the interim president has surrounded himself with, who represent various factions in the country and are often too willing to strike a compromise.

This is not directly aimed at Karzai, although he says that the interim president has assembled factional [tanzimi] people around himself and compromised too much. Like Hakimi, he is concerned about the selection of those charged with implementing the constitution.

Karzai's supporters say such fears are groundless.

Dr. Anwar-ul-Haq Ahadi, the head of the country's central bank and the leader of the Afghan Millat party, said he does not see the problem.

Ahadi said Karzai "doesn't take his personal advantage into account" when making official decisions.

He also said he was sure the international community would quickly cut off aid to Afghanistan if it became apparent that Karzai was attempting to misuse his powers.

Professor Abdul Salam Azimi, a deputy head of the Constitution Commission, agrees. "The misuse of power is not an issue," he said.

Even Masooda Jalal, who stood against Karzai as a presidential candidate at the Emergency Loya Jirga in June 2002 and who may run again for president later this year, was supportive in this case.

And, she said, once a parliament is elected that body "will review all decisions and any problems will be solved".

Which still leaves a big question: when will the presidential and parliamentary elections be held, and will they be conducted simultaneously.

Election Commission member Ghotai Khaware said that simultaneous elections will be possible if the money and facilities are available.

Jawed Ludin, a spokesman for the president, said the government will try to ensure that both elections take place in June. He emphasised, however, that general elections are a particularly complex operation. "There are hundreds and thousands of candidates for parliament, so a lot more work is needed," he said.

If the presidential and parliamentary elections are not held at the same time, Hakimi warns that "Afghanistan would be faced with instability and crisis".

Even as this debate continues, the approved constitution has yet to come into force, with questions still being raised over the exact wording in the document.

For example, the Dari version currently states that the president will "appoint" members of the commission to supervise the implementation of the constitution, while the Pashtu version says he was to "suggest" who the members should be.

Presidential spokesman Ludin said that such differences are only technical and that a special commission is checking the Dari and Pashtu versions of the document to correct any errors.

When that panel completes its work, Ludin said, the leadership of the Loya Jirga will check it against the approved original. After that, Karzai is expected to give his approval to the constitution being put into force.

Ludin said he believed that this process could be completed as early as this week.

© Institute for War & Peace Reporting

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