The National Assembly (Parliament) is the Legislative branch of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. The National Assembly is the highest elected representative body mandated to ratify laws and legislative decrees and oversee Executive work. The National Assembly is described in Articles 81 and 82 of the Constitution.
Under Article 81, the National Assembly, as the highest legislative organ manifests the will of its people and represents the entire nation. Every member of the assembly, when voting, shall judge according to the general interests as well as the supreme benefits of the people of Afghanistan. The Parliament consists of two houses: the Wolesi Jirga (Lower House) and the Meshrano Jirga (Upper House). No one can be member of both houses at the same time.
Wolesi Jirga (WJ)
The Wolesi Jirga is the lower house whose members are directly elected through free, general and secret voting for a period of five years.
The Wolesi Jirga has 249 seats and 10 of them are reserved for Kuchis (nomads). The number of seats for each province is proportionate to its population. The individual who becomes a candidate for its membership shall be 25 years old, a citizen of Afghanistan for the last ten years, and not convicted of crimes against humanity or crimes that warrant deprivation of civil rights by a court.
The is a constitutional quota of seats allocated to women in the Wolesi Jirga. The Constitution states that at least two women shall be elected members of the House from each province which means 68 reserved seats for women.
In the Wolesi Jirga election, each province is a constituency (Multi-Member Plurality).
The eligible voter can only cast vote in the province, where his/her name is registered in voters list. Kuchis can also run and vote. The entire country is a single constituency for Kuchis in the Wolesi Jirga election.
The legislative term is for five years. Election for new Wolesi Jirga shall take place 30 to 60 days prior to the end of the sitting Wolesi Jirga.
Authority of Wolesi Jirga
In addition to its general mandate, the Wolesi Jirga has the following powers:
- Formation of special oversight commission in order to investigate and oversee government actions.
- A two-thirds majority of the Wolesi Jirga can override any presidential veto.
- Decide on summoning cabinet ministers
- Decide on the development programs as well as the state budget
- Approve or reject appointments
Meshrano Jirga (MJ)
The Meshrano Jirga is the upper house or Senate which is comprised of both elected and nominated members. It has 102 members. 34 members are elected from Provincial Councils for a period of four years; 34 from District Councils for a period of three years and 34 members nominated by the President. Of the presidential nominees 17 members (50%) must be women, for a period of 5 years. While the Constitution has provisions for district council elections, these have not been held to date. A temporary solution was devised for the interim: Instead of one, each provincial council elects two of its members to the Meshrano Jirga.
Member of the provincial council who gets the highest votes in internal election will serve as member of the Meshrano Jirga for four years and second highest votes will elect the provisional member of the House. However, when election for district council takes place, the latter procedure will change. Member of the provincial council who is elected to the Meshrano Jirga loses his seat in the provincial council. However, the seat for provisional member will be retained once election for district council takes place.
An individual who becomes a candidate to the membership of the Meshrano Jirga shall be 35 years old, and a member of the provincial council.
PC Internal Election for MJ Seat
Members of the provincial councils hold internal elections in order to elect members for the Meshrano Jirga. A candidate, who gets the majority (more than 50 %) of votes in the first round of election are elected as Senator and serve for a period of four years. The runner-up is elected as provisional member of the Meshrano Jirga. If none of the candidates get the majority vote in the first round, a run-off will take place between them. If both candidates get the same number of votes in the second round, the one who has better education will be declared winner.
A member of the provincial council who is elected to the Meshrano Jirga loses his seat in the council. However, the seat for provisional member will be retained once election for district council takes place.
History of Jirgas and Shuras in Afghanistan
For generations, Afghans have held informal gatherings called Loya Jirgas (Grand Assemblies) or Shuras (Councils) to discuss national issues. The genius of Afghanistan’s ancient culture has endowed the nation with historic and invaluable traditions of social and political importance. Jirgas are understood and upheld as a positive character of the socio-political system of the Afghan societies throughout the history. The historical roots of Jirgas can be traced from the times of the ancient Arians and Kanishka the Great. When social life began to develop in ancient Ariana and political system (government) was established in order to achieve national interests, the need for national force increased. This caused the development of social structure.
Jirgas have been held when there was an issue of special importance. These jirgas have been considered crucial to social development. Jirgas also play a significant role in the nation’s socio-political life. They have been free of individual influence. Jirga has come to be seen as an unprejudiced and impartial body that takes decisions based on facts and logic.
Furthermore, jirgas are not only used for resolution of social issues, but also for settling judicial disputes.
Local and national jirgas have an important role in Afghanistan’s history -- in particular in the 19th century after Afghanistan’s independence and during the war against foreign invasions. For instances, thr national jirga against British occupation in 1841,
Mirwais Khan Hotaki’s jirga against the tyranny of Iran and Gorgean in 1709 which caused the establishment of a new national government, a Jirga in 1747 which was held in the military fort of Nadir Shah and lasted for six days elected Ahmad Khan Abdali as king. These examples show jirgas not only play a significant role in social life but are also respected in terms of religion as Islam commands Muslims to hold Shuras (consultation).
The first formal bi-cameral Afghan Parliament was convened in 1931 with major responsibilities of ratification and modification of legislation, international agreements and state budget. The National Assembly experienced 14 terms and continued until 1972. The National Assembly was suspended in 1972 due to political tensions followed by two coup d'états.
After gaining independence and reforms in the era of King Amanullah Khan, important laws and measures were adopted and implemented for the progress of Afghanistan but were promptly disrupted by foreigners. He was overthrown before Habibullah Kalani took over. All laws of the former were abolished.
In 1929, King Nadir Shah came to power. He proclaimed a 10-point policy. Article 10 of it was about the election of members of the national assembly. That policy was approved by a Loya Jirga in 1930.