Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Delegates Boycott Vote on Constitution

By Rahim Gul Sarwan and Rahimullah Samander in Kabul (ARR No. 97, 01-Jan-04)
By IWPR

The boycott seems to have been inspired by a diverse collection of grievances from various quarters. However, many prominent jihadi leaders, including Burhanuddin Rabbani, head of Jamiat-e-Islami, Siddiq Chakari, deputy of Jamiat, and Hafiz Mansoor, chief editor of Payam-e-Mujahed newspaper, participated in the boycott.


Some delegates said they were participating in the boycott because they opposed Pashtu as a national language. Others said they wanted the national anthem to be in several languages. Some said they were demanding that ministers not be allowed to have dual citizenship while others were concerned about the authority to print new currency.


Another group boycotted the vote because Loya Jirga chairman Sibghatullah Mujaddidi described them as atheists. These delegates had suggested that the word "Islamic" be deleted from the country's name, "The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan."


Some delegates said they were boycotting because they were afraid to contradict powerful leaders. But they were also afraid to even discuss it with a reporter.


And others, apparently fearful of opposing powerful party leaders, refused to even discuss why they were joining in the boycott.


The delegates were to have voted by secret written ballot on changes made to five articles included in the draft constitution. The assembly was adjourned until Saturday. Meanwhile, Lakhdar Brahimi, the United Nations envoy for Afghanistan, will negotiate among the various groups to try to get the assembly back on track again.


The boycott followed two days of increasing disarray and confusion. Many delegates have complained that procedures were unclear and unfair.


Azizullah Wasefi, a delegate from Kandahar, told IWPR that all the current problems were created by the United Nations. He said that breaking the assembly up into 10 working committees had been a bad idea. Instead, he said, the entire constitution should have been debated and voted on, one article at a time, by the whole assembly.


Part of the confusion seems to stem from the assembly’s voting procedures. Delegates on Monday voted on each article of the revised constitution, marking paper ballots approved or not approved. If an article received a simple majority of the delegates’ votes, it was considered approved. Those that failed to gain a majority were to be debated and voted upon again by the entire assembly.


Many complain that revisions have been made to especially controversial articles on a daily basis – and sometimes twice a day – so that they were unsure of exactly what they were voting on.


In Thursday¹s session, for example, eight articles were scheduled to be voted upon by the delegates. But Mujaddidi then announced that three of these articles had in fact received enough votes of approval during Monday¹s session and therefore would be considered approved.


The three articles’ now considered part of the new constitution, included a controversial one dealing with the national anthem. As voted on, the language of the anthem will remain in Pashtu but the song itself will be rewritten to include the key phrase of the jihadi national anthem, "Allahu Akbar" as well as mentioning each of the ethnic groups of Afghanistan.


Mujaddidi said only 146 delegates voted against this, and therefore it had been approved.


The issue of an official language left many boycotters furious.


Mustafa Etimadi, an Uzbek delegate from Uruzgan province, said he boycotted the vote because he wants the national anthem to be in multiple languages and wants Uzbek to be one of the official languages, in addition to Dari and Pashtu.


"As we are in the minority, we cannot win this [issue] through elections," he said.


Abdul Ghani of Balkh province, was equally upset. "Pashtu should not be the only national language, but all languages of Afghanistan should be national," he said.


Rahimullah Samander, an IWPR reporter/editor, and Rahim Gul Sarwan, an independent journalist in Kabul, are participating in IWPR's Loya Jirga reporting project.


More IWPR's Global Voices