12/10/2004
Press Release
SC/8216


Security Council

5055th Meeting* (AM)


AFGHANISTAN’S FIRST PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION NOT PERFECT, BUT SETS STAGE


for Journey towards vigorous democracy, Security Council told


Assistant Secretary-General Offers Preliminary Observations,

Says Afghans ‘Patience, Resilience and Determination’ Source of Optimism


Taking place against the backdrop of extremists’ threat, difficult terrain and sometimes adverse weather conditions, Afghanistan’s first-ever presidential election last Saturday, while not perfect, had placed under the best auspices the Afghans’ journey towards a vigorous democracy, Hedi Annabi, Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, told the Security Council this morning.


Presenting some “very preliminary” observations on a process that was still under way and cautioning against complacency in the challenging days ahead, he said the “patience, resilience and determination” demonstrated by Afghan women and men was a source of optimism that the election would result in the fully representative government called for in the Bonn Agreement.


While the results of the election itself would not be known for some time, the popular verdict on the process itself was “overwhelmingly positive”, he said.  Many international observers had feared that the election would have been marred by violence.  The fact that it had not been was a tribute not only to the Afghan voters, but also to the national army and police who had provided a safe environment with the assistance of international forces.


Describing allegations of intimidation and irregularities during the historic day, he said the only serious problem during voting concerned the handling of the indelible ink.  Polling stations had been supplied with one of two products with which to ink voters’ left thumbs -– voter ink pens or ink sponge containers.  While both products appeared to have functioned satisfactorily when used properly, it appeared that polling officials had confused products on many occasions, producing, in the early hours of polling, fast flying rumours that the ink was erasable and that the election was, therefore, compromised.


Some polling staff had decided to halt voting until they could receive clarification from the Joint Electoral Management Body (JEMB), he explained.  Rapidly issuing a decision that polling should continue, the JEMB had reissued instructions on how to properly use the ink.  The problem had been resolved within the first hours of polling, and complaints had ceased by early afternoon.  Voters continued to turn out in significant numbers throughout the day, and a number of polling sites actually extended their closing time from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.


Despite the resolution of the problem and voter’s evident enthusiasm, 15 opposition candidates, at around 2 p.m., had issued a statement calling for the suspension of the polling and declaring that the results of the election would not be legitimate, he continued.  Citing a multiplicity of alleged irregularities, including allegations that JEMB staff had instructed people to vote for President Karzai, the JEMB had rejected the demand as unjustified and reminded the candidates that an investigations mechanism existed, and that they would be able to fully participate in the investigation.


An important part of the election was the out-of-country voting in Pakistan and Iran, he said.  With some 800,000 Afghans voting outside of Afghanistan, the out-of-country exercise was the largest post-conflict refugee vote.  Initial estimates suggested that 540,000 Afghans voted in the 1,657 polling stations set up in Pakistan, representing a satisfactory turnout of about 75 per cent.  In Iran, an estimated 260,000 voters voted in 1,126 polling stations, representing some 50 per cent of estimated eligible voters.


An important element in enhancing the election’s credibility was the presence of observers, he added.  In Afghanistan, 5,321 domestic and 121 international observers were present on polling day.  The European Union and the Organization for Cooperation and Security in Europe (OCSE) had sent election support teams, both of which had issued generally positive preliminary statements.  He welcomed, in particular, the participation of domestic observers through the Free and Fair Elections Foundation of Afghanistan.


Equally important for the process’ credibility had been the presence of political party and candidate agents.  There had been 22,000 party agents and 52,000 candidate accredited agents, and agents were present in every province.  Many continued to observe the polling even after their candidates had called a boycott and had requested them to leave the polling stations.


While disarmament was an important ingredient in the holding of credible elections, the electoral process itself helped advance disarmament, which was why the international community should continue to provide assistance to both processes, particularly in the context of the upcoming parliamentary elections scheduled for next spring.  Planning and budgeting for those elections would begin shortly, and those plans would be made available as soon as they were finished.


The meeting began at 10:15 a.m. and adjourned at 10:36 a.m.


Detailed Briefing Summary


HEDI ANNABI, Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, said that last Saturday Afghans went to the polls to vote for their president for the first time in their history.  That the elections should have taken place at all, against the backdrop of extremists’ threat, the very difficult terrain, adverse weather conditions in several provinces and other challenges was in itself an achievement.  The impressive participation, the enthusiasm and pride of the women and men voting for the first time, the peaceful and orderly environment in which the electoral operation unfolded had made it a very special event, placing under the best auspices the Afghan’s journey towards a vigorous democracy.


Many international observers had feared that the election would be marred by violence, he said.  The fact that it had not been was a tribute not only to the Afghan voters, but also to the national army and police who had provided a safe environment, with the assistance of international forces.  The elections, of course, were not perfect, including the troubling experience with the application of indelible ink, of allegations of intimidation and of other irregularities.  While the results of the election itself would not be known for some time, the popular verdict on the process itself was overwhelmingly positive.


In most ways, the elections had been a very well run operation, given the constraints of geography and security.  Almost every polling station had opened on time.  Polling staff acted professionally and were properly equipped.  There had been no major security incidents and no Afghan voter had been killed during the polling.  Individual Afghans reflected a high level of popular satisfaction with the conduct of polling.  Initial estimates indicated a high turnout, despite poor weather conditions and a call by the opposition candidates for a boycott.


The only serious problem that occurred during voting concerned the handling of the indelible ink, he said.  Polling stations had been supplied with one of two products with which to ink voters’ left thumbs –- voter ink pens or ink sponge containers.  Both products appeared to have functioned satisfactorily when used properly.  However, the voter ink pens could be confused with marker pens intended for marking ballot papers, and the ink sponge containers could be confused with a bottle of ink intended for replenishing stamp pads.  It appeared that polling officials had confused products on many occasions, producing, in the early hours of polling, fast-flying rumours that the ink was erasable and that the election was, therefore, compromised.


He said some polling staff had decided to halt voting until they could receive clarification from the Joint Electoral Management Body (JEMB).  The JEMB had rapidly issued a decision that polling should continue, and it reissued instructions on how to properly use the ink.  The problem was resolved within the first hours of polling, and complaints had ceased by early afternoon.  Voters continued to turn out in significant numbers throughout the day, and a number of polling sites actually extended their closing time from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.


Despite the resolution of the problem and the evident enthusiasm of voters, 15 opposition candidates, at around 2 p.m., had issued a statement calling for the suspension of the polling and declaring that the results of the election would not be legitimate.  They had cited a multiplicity of alleged irregularities, including allegations that JEMB staff had instructed people to vote for President Karzai, that candidate and party agents had been barred from some polling stations, and that blank ballot papers had been distributed.  The JEMB had rejected the demand as unjustified, and had stated that to shut down voting on the basis of unproven allegations would deny the fundamental right to vote to those who had not yet reached the polling centres.  The JEMB had acknowledged in its statement that there had been some technical problems and allegations of other irregularities, but reminded the candidates that a complaints mechanism existed and that they would be able to participate in the investigation of complaints.


As polling went on without incident, voters had increasingly stated their opposition to the boycott, and the position of its supporters weakened, he said.  The day after the polling, a number of candidates had suggested that they were not necessarily boycotting the election results, but that they did feel a strong need for an independent investigation into the alleged irregularities.  The JEMB had taken the issue seriously, and had requested the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) to nominate a panel of independent electoral experts to assist it in the JEMB investigation.  The Electoral Law empowered the JEMB to establish such a panel.  On 11 October, the JEMB had announced the establishment of three-member panel that would fully investigate the candidates’ protests and to present recommendations to the JEMB for its adjudication.


Turning to the question of security, he noted that, in the end, the security conditions on electoral day greatly exceeded expectations.  There had been some incidents, however.  In several areas, particularly in the south and east, rockets had been fired at or near polling centres.  In the central highlands, there had been a case of polling station workers being assaulted by voters who had attempted to vote multiple times.  In Uruzgan province, insurgents had destroyed a bridge linking one community to a village centre, to prevent people from travelling to the centre to vote.  There had been several reports of intimidation, though none so far were considered to have greatly affected the voting.  Allegations were being processed and would be investigated.


Credit must be given to the remarkable security cooperation apparatus that had been established between the JEMB and national and international security forces, the Electoral Security Operations Centre (ESOC), he said.  That mechanism had allowed intelligence from various sources to be shared.  It had allowed particular threats to be responded to, as necessary, by some 100,000 Afghan, coalition and International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) forces present during the election.  The forces had provided confidence to Afghan voters, and had deterred a number of incidents.  There was a need to build on the success, and the forces should remain in Afghanistan until the parliamentary elections were over.


The presidential electoral process was not over, and attacks could still occur, he continued.  While polling had ended, a number of technical tasks remained.  Ballot boxes were being transported to the counting centres in Afghanistan’s eight main population centres.  Most had now arrived, despite some attacks on convoys, including one that had killed three Afghan policemen in Uruzgan.  The reconciliation of votes was under way, meaning that the number of ballots in each box was checked against the number of people who had appeared at the polling stations and the number of ballots that had been used at that station.  Once reconciliation was complete, the counting of ballots would begin in the presence of observers and party agents.  The counting process was expected to continue for up to several weeks.  The results would be transmitted every hour to the Media Results Centre, where they would be publicly available.  Once the counting was completed, and if the JEMB concluded that the reported irregularities did not affect the election’s overall credibility, the results would be announced.


Continuing, he said that an important part of the election was the out-of-country voting in Pakistan and Iran, conducted on behalf of the JEMB by the International Organization of Migration (IOM).  There, as in Afghanistan, order was kept, voters turned out, and balloting took place under secure conditions.  Initial estimates suggested that 540,000 Afghans voted in the 1,657 polling stations set up in Pakistan, representing a satisfactory turnout of about 75 per cent.  In Iran, an estimated 260,000 voters participated in 1,126 polling stations.  That represented around 50 per cent of estimated eligible voters.  Given the abbreviated time for public education in Iran, as well as the fact that in Iran –- as opposed to Pakistan and Afghanistan –- polling fell on a working day for many voters, that participation rate was also satisfactory. 


With some 800,000 Afghans voting outside of Afghanistan, the out-of-country exercise was the largest post-conflict refugee vote, he said.  That had been organized in only 78 days, a feat for which the IOM, and particularly its teams in Pakistan and Iran, deserved significant praise.  He also commended the Governments of Iran and Pakistan for the commitment they had shown to the process and the success that had rewarded it.


He said that an important element in enhancing the credibility of the election was the presence of observers.  In Afghanistan, 5,321 domestic and 121 international observers were present on polling day.  The European Union and the Organization for Cooperation and Security in Europe (OCSE) had sent election support teams, both of which had issued generally positive preliminary statements.  The participation of domestic observers through the Free and Fair Elections Foundation of Afghanistan was particularly welcome, and he was pleased that the domestic observation effort was as thorough as it was.  Equally important for the credibility of the process had been the presence of political party and candidate agents.  There had been 22,000 party agents and 52,000 candidate-accredited agents, and agents were present in every province.  Many continued to observe the polling even after their candidates had called a boycott and had requested them to leave the polling stations.  Those agents continued to play an active role in observing the counting process and, by doing so, strengthened the credibility of the process.


Before the election, he recalled, much effort had gone into creating an environment for a credible, meaningful election.  A list of the guiding benchmarks had been circulated to the Security Council in August of last year.  Those had included:  reforming and expanding domestic security forces; strengthening the presence of international forces; disarming and reintegrating militias; registering political parties, which had cut their links with armed militias; strengthening protection for journalists; establishing a progressive regulatory framework for the election; and creating a capacity to verify the effective exercise of political rights.  With respect to the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) process, much more progress was needed before the parliamentary elections.  At the same time, the electoral process itself had added momentum to the disarmament efforts.


He said that a specific pre-election “DDR” framework had been finalized through a presidential decree signed on 7 September.  Additional momentum had been gained from the requirement that all parties sever their links to military formations, in order t be registered for the elections.  As a result, the Ministry of Defence, as requested by the JEMB on 10 August, had appointed new and non-factional commanders to three core units affiliated with electoral candidates:  President Karzai’s running mate, Khalili; and presidential candidates, Muhaqqiq and Dostum.  The political momentum generated by the electoral process had had an evident effect on soldiers’ demobilization, as well as on the de-factionalization of military forces.  By the end of September, about 5,480 soldiers had entered the “DDR” programme under the new plan, which was about 40 per cent more than the number that had been disarmed since the programme began in October 2003.  By election day, more than 22,500 personnel had been disarmed and 2,780 serviceable heavy weapons had been disabled or cantoned.  That corresponded to 33 per cent of estimated actual personnel targets, and 68 per cent of the heavy weapons target.


Those results suggested that, just as disarmament was an important ingredient in the holding of credible elections, the electoral process itself helped advance disarmament, he said.  That was one more reason to ensure that the international community should continue to provide assistance to both processes, particularly in the context of the upcoming parliamentary elections scheduled for next spring.  Planning and budgeting for those elections would begin shortly, and those plans would be made available as soon as those were finished.


He said his presentation today had consisted of some “very preliminary” observations on a process that was still under way.  He suggested guarding against complacency and being aware that difficult, challenges continued to lie ahead.  In the past few days, however, the patience, first and foremost, the resilience and determination demonstrated by Afghan women and men, were a source of optimism that the election would result in the fully representative government called for in the Bonn Agreement.


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*     The 5054th Meeting was closed.