President's Powers Questioned

President's Powers Questioned

The powers of the president have emerged as one of the main issues in the country’s draft constitution currently being debated by the Loya Jirga.

Those in favour of wide-ranging powers for the president say a strong presidency is necessary to hold the country together and give firm direction to government policy.

But those campaigning against the proposals say the draft constitution hands too much power to the presidency – and that there is a danger that he might abuse his position and become a dictator.

Under the draft constitution, the directly-elected president has the power to supervise the implementation of the constitution; determine the “fundamental policies of the state”; and is commander-in-chief of the armed forces.

In addition, the president appoints ministers and members of the supreme court, with the approval of the lower house of the national assembly, the Wolesi Jirga.

There is no position of prime minister under the draft, as there was in the 1964 constitution, apparently to prevent a second power-base developing under a premier.

Abdul Hamid Mubariz, deputy culture minister in the interim government, said the president should be given strong powers under the constitution so that he could impose his authority in the government and the country.

“The powers given to the president will not lead to dictatorship because if any violation of the law occurs, and two-thirds of representatives in the national assembly confirm it, they will call a Loya Jirga which will ask the president to explain himself,” said Mubariz.

He added that Afghanistan was no longer a closed society and that a free press would help guard against abuse of power by the president, and guarantee democracy.

Musa Maroufi, a member of the constitutional commission, also rejected claims that there was a danger of the head of state becoming a dictator.

“A country turns to dictatorship when the organisations which create democracy are not present, when there are no free elections, when political parties are not allowed, and where there is no free press in the country,” said Maroufi. But, he added, Afghanistan would have these things.

But Abdul Shakour Waqif Hakimi, head of the cultural office for Jamiat Islami and a delegate from Kabul to the Loya Jirga, said that the powers which would be handed to the president go too far. A strong Parliamentary system would be better for the Afghan people, he said.

“The powers given to the president in this constitution turns the president into a dictator. If it is the president who decides the political orientation of the country; if it is the president who monitors the implementation of the constitution - then what is the parliament? Isn’t the parliament just a hand-puppet of the president? And if judicial powers are assigned by the president, how can he claim to have an independent judiciary?” he said

Fazil Karim, a lecturer in teacher-training at the higher education ministry in Kabul, said the new constitution was being foisted on the Afghanstan by the powerful, at home and abroad. This was not democratic nor was it for the benefit of the Afghan people.

“We can call this constitution the ‘law of the lords’ because it is being made according to the interests of the powerful, according to their wishes. They give more than enough power to the president, and they translate Islam for their own benefit and add it to the law,” he said.

“I do not believe that this constitution is made for the benefit of the people.”

Qais Faqiri and Qayoum Babak are participating in IWPR’s Loya Jirga reporting project.

Support our journalists