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IN THE NEWS – June 8, 2002: Loya Jirga - 2002-06-07

This is Steve Ember with the VOA Special English program, In The News.

Next week, a traditional national council called a loya jirga will meet in the capital of Afghanistan, Kabul. About one-thousand-five-hundred delegates will choose a new leader for Afghanistan and a temporary government.

The loya jirga tradition began hundreds of years ago. Tribal leaders from all over Afghanistan would be called together to accept or reject national policies, to settle disputes between tribes or to consider new constitutions. Most loya jirgas in the past have been all male.

The loya jirga is a temporary decision- making group. It is not a permanent part of the Afghan government. The loya jirga is a representative process although it is not considered fully democratic. Representatives of the most honored or most powerful Afghan families choose the people who elect loya jirga members.

The current loya jirga process began in December of last year. Afghan groups agreed to set up a six-month government following the ousting of Taleban rulers. That agreement also called for an emergency loya jirga to be held at the end of the six-month term to appoint a longer-term temporary government.

In January, Afghanistan appointed an independent committee to establish rules and methods for the loya jirga. The committee had to decide on a process for choosing loya jirga members. It also had to make sure that women and minorities had representation on the loya jirga. One-hundred-sixty seats were guaranteed for female delegates.

The process of choosing loya jirga members has gone through several steps. First, local leadership councils chose electors. The number of electors for an area was based on population.

Then, last week, the electors went to Kandahar for the final voting. They chose the final group of loya jirga members from among themselves. The process was not free of problems. There were reports of vote-buying. There also were reports that electors had been threatened.

There were delays in the voting as well. The process was not completed until Friday, two days later than planned.

Afghanistan’s former King Mohammad Zahir Shah will open the loya jirga Monday. He returned to the country recently after living in exile for more than twenty years. Zahir Shah ruled Afghanistan for forty years and is still considered influential with many Afghans. However, his part in the loya jirga is ceremonial.

The loya jirga is to complete its work by June sixteenth. Many experts believe it will choose Hamid Karzai, the current temporary leader of Afghanistan, to continue as its next leader. Mister Karzai says he will accept the position if it is offered. The new temporary leader and government of Afghanistan will serve for two years. Then the country hopes to hold free and fair elections to choose a fully representative government.

This VOA Special English program In The News was written by Caty Weaver. This is Steve Ember.