Annan urges lawful approach to Afghan poll dispute as experts named to probe

Kofi Annan

11 October 2004 – Secretary-General Kofi Annan today hailed the Afghan people for their historic presidential election on Saturday and urged the candidates to lawfully resolve their dispute over polling irregularities, as the United Nations named two experts to serve on a panel which will probe the complaints.

In a statement released by his spokesman, Mr. Annan said "that the election was held without major security incident is a tribute to the determination" of Afghans.

The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) also reported there was massive popular participation in the balloting, enthusiasm around the country and safe conditions for voting.

The Joint Electoral Management Body (JEMB), the UN-Afghan body charged with overseeing the country's electoral process, said that after extended discussions yesterday about reported irregularities it had decided to set up a panel "to further enhance the transparency and legitimacy of the election."

After a request from JEMB, the UN nominated Craig Jenness, a former Canadian diplomat and experienced jurist, and Staffan Darnolf, a Swedish election administration expert, to serve on the probe. The European Union has been asked to help identify a third panellist.

The investigators will first examine any issue that would require a specific ballot box to be isolated from the counting process, which is expected to take several weeks, for further evaluation.

"This will allow the two exercises - counting and investigation - to proceed simultaneously," the JEMB said in its statement today.

The panel will supplement the work of the JEMB's own complaints and investigations unit, which is also examining Saturday's result. Presidential candidates have been given until tomorrow evening to submit their complaints.

The head of the support team for the election monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Ambassador Robert Barry, told reporters yesterday that while there were some irregularities, any demand to nullify the election was unjustified.

"October 9 was a historic day in Afghanistan, and the millions who came to the polls clearly wanted to turn from the rule of the gun to the rule of the law. If their aspirations are to be met, disputes about the validity of election results should be dealt with as the law provides," he said.

Mr. Barry said one of the problems focused on the indelible ink, which was stamped on each voter's hand so that they could not vote more than once. In some cases the ink rubbed off, especially after people washed their hands vigorously.

"I don't know whether the problem was primarily using the wrong marker, although I know that in many cases that was the issue, because the markers in the kits looked very similar," he said. "But there were obviously other places where the bottles of ink supplied were dried out."

UNAMA also said that while there were problems with the indelible ink process, they had been solved by late morning on Saturday.

In some polling stations, Mr. Barry added, the agents of candidates or election personnel were observed coaching people about how they should vote. In other stations, candidate agents or election observers were barred from entering.

"Clearly that kind of incident should not happen. But again it's not unique that it happened here," he observed. "It happens in many countries, especially where polling station staff is not very well acquainted with the rules and regulations."

Saturday's election was the first of its kind in Afghanistan, which endured more than two decades of war and Taliban misrule until late 2001.

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