8 March 2010
Spokesperson's Noon Briefing

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Martin Nesirky, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

Briefing on Iraq elections by Ad Melkert, Special Representative of the Secretary-General, via video conference

Spokesperson: Good afternoon.

I think we’ll be ready to start shortly.  Is everything okay?  Can you hear us?

While we’re waiting, just to let you know that also at 12:30 p.m., as you know, we’ll have here with us Ms. Ann-Marie Orler, the new Police Adviser from the Department of Peacekeeping Operations.  And as you will have heard, the Secretary-General announced her appointment this morning.

And then at 4:45 p.m., [Israeli Deputy Prime Minister] Silvan Shalom will speak to reporters at the North Lawn Building stakeout following his meeting with the Secretary-General.

So, right, okay.  Good afternoon, good evening, Mr. Melkert.  Welcome to our noon briefing.

Special:  Good afternoon, Martin.  Good to see you.  Very good to have this opportunity.

Spokesperson:  And the floor is yours.

Special Representative:  All right, thank you very much.  It is a great pleasure from my side to be able… Is it still okay?

Spokesperson:  You’re audible here.

Special Representative:  All right.  Well, let me continue.  It is a great pleasure for me to be able to comment on the elections as they took place in previous days, starting on Thursday, with the so-called special needs voting, and then followed by the start of out-of-country voting in 16 countries around the world, and yesterday, the big day of elections here in Iraq.

And it has been a big day for the future of the country.  It has been very reassuring that the way upwards towards recovery and stability that we thought we saw already for some time appears to be genuinely rooted in the wish of the overwhelming majority of the Iraqi people, that reason prevails over confrontation and violence.  So I congratulate the more than 12 million Iraqis who went to the polls, which is a turnout percentage of 62.3, higher than many had expected, and that marks the historic character of election day. 

We as the UN commend the boards of commissioners of IHEC -- the Independent High Electoral Commission -- and the more than 300,000 Iraqis engaged by IHEC for their efforts to conduct elections in a well-organized and professional fashion.  And we’re proud to have supported their work.  And it is also encouraging for the UN to see that efforts that have started basically in 2005, 2004, with previous election rounds and last year’s rounds, that they show that the capacity-building objective of the UN is really bearing fruit in the strengthened capacity of IHEC to really organize these elections in a very professional way. 

Yesterday, our staff has visited polling centres in many of the governorates of Iraq, and it was really heartening to see how motivated people were to come there to the polls and to cast their votes, and even when we thought that it was relatively complicated, how the whole set up has been decided by IHEC.  Voter education that took place on a relatively massive scale really turned out to be a big help for many voters to be able to fill out their form, their ballots, in the way as they were asked to do.  And many people are quite satisfied, actually, the way that it went.

There are certainly still issues and questions with regard to certain aspects of the process.  We don’t have the impression at this point in time that they are of a massive character or of a systematic nature.  But we wait at this moment [for] the analysis of the complaints that have come in.  There was an official complaint procedure, so individual voters or parties could make use of that procedure.  And we are very keen with IHEC to see to it that dealing with the complaints will be done in a very transparent way, and will be communicated well to the Iraqi people, also in the possible consequences of dealing with those complaints.

And we therefore also encourage political agents and observers to continue to monitor the process and to direct any complaints to the IHEC, in accordance with the law.  It is expected that in a couple of days from now, probably Thursday, maybe Friday, the preliminary results of the elections will be announced by IHEC.  That will be done on the basis of 30 per cent of vote counts in each and every governorate.  And then it might still take considerable time in the whole of this month before the final results will be announced by IHEC, and their final results subsequently will have to be certified by the Federal Supreme Court.

Let me finally say that, after the big days that we have had, and the remarkable days that we have had with the elections, we are very much aware that very crucial moments will arrive when the results will be announced, and that could even count for the preliminary results.  And that’s why we as the UN have called on all candidates and parties to unite in accepting the results because that will set an example for a culture of democracy that requires commitment of all concerned beyond elections only.  And we also have called on all those newly-elected to move resolutely to seat Parliament and form the new Government, so that political, economic and social progress is not delayed.  At the same time, we must understand that in a system with probably minority parties some time will be needed to form a majority coalition.

So, let me stop here and give it back to you, Martin.  Thank you very much.

Spokesperson:  Thanks very much, Ad, for that.  And we’ll go to questions now.  I think we have until about half past, so about 20 minutes.  And I would ask folks here to say who they are and who you work for as well.  Yes, please; the first question.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you.  Sir, a significant amount of Iraq’s population is actually outside Iraq.  They are in Jordan, they are in Turkey, and they are in Syria.  How transparent do you think this election can become, or how fair, when almost 20 per cent of the population is outside of the country?

Special Representative:  Well, let me first leave the figure that you mentioned, really, for your own account, because I think there are various figures being used about the number of Iraqis abroad.  But your figure is really extremely high, and I don’t think that reflects reality.  It is clear that quite a number of Iraqis are abroad, particularly in the neighbouring countries.  That was also the reason for IHEC to promote out-of-country voting in 16 countries.  That is what happened in previous days.  Figures at this moment show that probably around 275,000 Iraqis abroad voted, but these figures are still developing so it’s not yet the final figure.  But that is more or less the range that you should look at.  And that is more or less in line with what we have been seeing on previous occasions.  It is not clear what it exactly tells about the percentage of voters that turned out in countries outside Iraq, because there is no count for the total number.  Iraqis were entitled by way of number-specified identification documents to come forward and then be allowed to vote.  The final results will be made known at a later stage.

Question:  Ayad Allawi has been quoted as saying that he’s calling for some kind of an inquiry into the results, saying that there were irregularities and confusion in different polling places.  Are you aware of that and what do you make of his claim of irregularity, and will an investigation be conducted?

Special Representative:  We’re aware of different points that have been made by different candidates or party representatives.  I don’t think it’s my task to comment on particular statements that have been made.  Suffice it to say that we have called on all candidates and parties to make use of the official complaints procedure, because there is simply no way to address particular issues and potential problems if the official way is not followed through the complaints procedure.  And on that basis, IHEC should rule.

Question:  Can I just ask one follow-up.  Your statement that things were generally fair and the way that you described it, can we take that as an implicit rejection of these complaints?  What are you saying about what UNAMI [United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq] observed on the day of the election?  You are saying it seemed free and fair to you? 

Special Representative:  No, not at all.  You can also not attribute to me any assessment as to the outcome of the results.  The counting is still under way.  I have not referred to fair elections; I’ve just said that the turnout has been really very good and beyond expectation, and that it was a big day just to witness Iraqis going to the polls in a country that has gone through so many things and that anyway doesn’t have a history of democracy. 

It is not my task, it is not UNAMI’s task, to assess any complaints that would come forward.  That is solely in the hands of IHEC.  And there is an appeal procedure in place.  That is also the reason why it might still take a couple of weeks before the final results can be declared, because an election judicial panel will deal with possible appeals to the initial ruling of IHEC complaints.  And we, of course, as UNAMI, will have to, will respect that procedure.

Question:  I have got two things for you:  one, you mentioned, you used the phrase “genuinely rooted” in terms of describing the democracy there.  To what extent do you believe that the foundation as such, as shown by this election, that democracy is on a virtually irreversible course in Iraq?  That this is strong enough?  That this is going to hold? And number two, when you mention about some time will be needed to form a majority coalition, to what extent is there concern about this time frame?  How long it could go and the longer it goes would test and show the fragility of the situation there?  If it goes on for too long, there will be violence and splinters of people and there won’t be a functioning Government.

Special Representative:  Yes, thank you for those questions.  Well first, on the routing.  I refer to that because it is very significant, in my view, that after a full first term of the directly-elected Parliament in 2005, now the stage to a second term has been really supported by the Iraqi people.  I think that’s a significance, also, of the turn-out figures that we have seen now.  And I believe that it is also shown by, really, the attitude of people.  Those of us -- and I’ve heard that same story over and over again from observers and poll-watchers today ‑‑ those of us who have witnessed, like in my own case, in Kirkuk, and in Mansour, which is a part of Baghdad, the motivation of people to go through the process to vote, to count, to be proud of the vote that they did cast, see that this is, really, something very elementary in human beings, that they want to take a decision to be part of decision-making about their own future.  So, both the fact that this is now the second time of elections and really a strong confirmation of a mandate for a second term of a directly elected Parliament, and this attitude of people that is so encouraging, make me make that remark.

On the Government formation, I would like to say that in a system where most probably no party will have an outright majority, it is normal that time is needed to bring parties together.  Here, it is probable that, with my continental European background, I look at that as more a matter of course than maybe the case on the basis of experience in other countries.  But I really would call on everyone to be patient, also, in the way that that process will be described.  It is natural, and it is even necessary, to have a solid coalition in place that will really stand the test of being a cohesive Government in the years ahead.

Obviously, there is an interest that it shouldn’t take longer than absolutely necessary.  If needed, and at the request of parties, the UN is certainly also available to advise in any way that might be considered necessary.  But for the time being, I believe that the Iraqi parties are also very much aware of the need to be decisive, and to have a Government in place in due course.  But any prediction could not be made at this point in time.

Question:  Just a follow-up on [inaudible] -- is that the biggest danger right now, that so much time could elapse without formation of a Government?

Special Representative:  Well, I think in the first place it should be said that, in certain situations, it is normal that there is a caretaking Government in place, so that the current Government, headed by Prime Minister [Nuri Kamal al-]Maliki, takes care of what is absolutely necessary to continue as Government business, of course, under the watch of the newly-elected Parliament.  So, it’s very important that the new Parliament can also be seated very soon.  And then, it is a matter of parties also accepting the election results.  That, I find, is really the most important thing now, because as soon as parties accept the results, they also accept that there are winners, and relative winners, and relative losers.  And, that all of them have a role in either becoming part of a Government majority, or staying in Parliament as opposition, but with the opposition playing a crucial part in an effective democracy.  Once that is recognized from all sides, I would feel relatively reassured that also a period of transition could be phased by all concerned, in a decent way.

Question:  Considering the level of violence before and, of course, during the elections -- the voting process rather -- what can you tell us about the Iraqi security forces in response, and of course the preventative measures that they’ve taken?  And just their capabilities, their current capacity?

Special Representative:  Well, let me first say that the violence that we saw yesterday morning, particularly in Baghdad, but also in other places, and in the weeks before, particularly in the area of Mosul, is very, very regrettable.  And we deplore the loss of lives of many people yet again.  At the same time, it was really very important to note that in the turn-out figures for Nineveh, where I speak about Mosul in particular, and also in the different areas of Baghdad, we have not seen any impact.  Just in the first hours, it looked like people were a bit careful to go out and vote.  But it picked up considerably, as many observers have noted, in the course of the day.  As the manager of the voting station in Mansour that I visited yesterday afternoon told me, this is something that Iraqis will not let themselves be influenced by.  They want to go out and vote no matter what.  And let me also add that the total number of incidents, although it looked slightly frightening yesterday morning, has remained remarkably low on the scale of what has happened, even in the recent half year or so, when the average number of incidents has come down, as you know, already very substantially.

And many observers believe that we are seeing a steady increase in the capacity of the security forces to really take care of security in a much more effective way than before.  And the whole election exercise ‑‑ and now we must see that we’re not only talking Baghdad but really the whole country ‑‑ has been set up and controlled under the auspices of the Iraqi security forces.  They were in charge, and throughout the country we think that they’ve been in charge pretty well.  And, right now, they are in charge of making sure that the replacement of the ballot boxes from the voting stations to the counting centres and to the warehouses is going as it should.  And we have no indications of the contrary so far.

Question:  Could you please tell [us about] the role, the future role, of the United Nations after this election process?  And also, during the formation of the new Government, please?

Special Representative:  Well thank you for that question.  Of course, we stand advised by the Security Council mandates, and that also states that we should act at the request of the Iraqi Government ‑‑ and that is always the bottom line here.  As I said, during the Government formation process, it will really depend on what is needed.  But, both in more general terms, but also looking at some of the important issues ahead, like the relations between Arabs and Kurds, and also the issue still outstanding between Iraq and Kuwait, we really are ready to facilitate processes that would lead to political agreements.  I’ve also said something on that in my recent statement to the Security Council.

As to the future, I do believe it is important that UNAMI could contribute to the consolidation of electoral and constitutional processes on the basis also of lessons learned during this election, legislation and campaign.  And, referring to the future of Iraqi Kurdistan in the framework of the Federal State of Iraq, and also the Chapter VII issues, together with the big challenge ‑‑ maybe the biggest challenge for the new Government, the social and economic policy agenda and how to turn income from oil production into true investments into the social and economic future of the country ‑‑ we believe that in all those areas, both UNAMI and the UN country team could constructively help the people and the Government of Iraq, and along these lines, we will certainly also advise as to our potential and our willingness to stand by.

Spokesperson:  I think we have time for one more question.

Question:  Could you say what was complex about the voting situation?  And also, what is the process of people who do want to make a complaint?  What do they have to do?

Special Representative:  All right.  I think I understood your question on what was complex about the voting situation.  The complexity was really in the ballot.  It was quite a big ballot, I think a lot bigger than one would normally see, because of the choice by the council representatives to allow for double the number of candidates for the places available.  And then also, the 18 governorates that, particularly in the out-of-country voting and in the special needs voting, had to be part of the availability of forms.  So people had to be explained how that works.  But, as I said, it turned out pretty well.  And we even ask the question how did it go with illiterate people that could not write or read ‑‑ they got, of course, some assistance, but it didn’t turn out to be a specific point of concern. 

And then, your second question was?  Sorry.

Question:  What do people have to do to file a complaint?

Special Representative:  Well, in all the voting stations, there were complaint forms available on a place where people could really see them.  And with any question that they had, also to the staff in the voting station, and certainly with their concerns, they would be referred to those forms and assisted to fill them out.  And those forms are transported together with the overall results forms of each individual voting station to the central count centre here in Baghdad, and they will be processed in the coming days.  And, each and every complaint will be dealt with by a team of lawyers, mainly Iraqi lawyers ‑‑ about 100 of them standing ready ‑‑ and they will be assisted by a number of highly experienced UNAMI staff.

Spokesperson:  Okay.  Well, thank you very much, Mr. Melkert, for coming on to this briefing.  It’s terrific to have a readout from the spot right after the vote.  So thank you very much for doing that.

Special Representative:  My pleasure, thank you.

Spokesperson:  Okay.  Goodbye for now.  Okay, so we’re going to switch gears and, as I mentioned, we have with us the new Police Adviser to for the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, Ms. Ann-Marie Orler, and I would invite her to come and join me here.

[Briefing by Ms. Ann-Marie Orler issued separately]

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For information media • not an official record