Afghanistan’s first loya jirga in nearly a quarter century will hold a vote tomorrow to select the nation’s leader for the next 18 months. Massoda Jalal, one of 200 female delegates who is also physician for the United Nations’ World Food Program, will be vying with current interim leader Hamid Karzai for the presidency. Jalal gathered 160 signatures from a nearly 90 percent male delegation to be on the ballot, 10 more than required.
Jalal, 35, told Agence France-Presse that she was “opening a new page in Afghanistan’s political history” by becoming a candidate for head of state. “I am an independent candidate and I am highly hopeful. I am going to test the will of the people,” she said. “I don’t see any shortcomings in myself. I am not a faction leader, I’m an independent woman who never left Afghanistan.” With 200 women delegates to this loya jirga, it will be “probably the most open exchange among groups of citizens that this country has ever witnessed, and that [is] very exciting,” said senior government official and delegate Ashraf Ghani. With close to 160 women appointed and approximately 40 elected to delegate seats, this loya jirga is the largest representation of women ever in a traditional council.
The national assembly of 1,551 delegates from across Afghanistan started Tuesday after a one-day delay. Postponed voting and a scuffle between German security forces and Afghan police this morning have marked the first days of this long-anticipated event. Following this scuffle, 60-70 delegates walked out of the general council because they felt there had not been true democratic representation so far in the process. In the last 48 hours, former monarch Mohammad Zahir Shah and former president Burhanuddin Rabbani both withdrew to endorse current interim leader Hamid Karzai for president of the new transitional government.