Press Conference by Senior UN Officials on Afghanistan’s Presidential Elections

7 October 2009

Press Conference by Senior UN Officials on Afghanistan’s Presidential Elections

7 October 2009
Press Conference
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Press Conference by Senior UN Officials on Afghanistan’s Presidential Elections

An extensive investigation, launched Monday, into charges of fraudulent voting in Afghanistan’s recent elections was moving forward with the aim of delivering results as soon as possible, Edmond Mullet, United Nations Assistant-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping said today at a Headquarters press conference.

Joining Mr. Mullet were Wolfgang Weisbrod Weber, Director of Asia and Middle East Division of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, and Craig Jenness, Director of the Electoral Assistance Division of the Department of Political Affairs.

Explaining procedure, Mr. Jenness said that the review was being undertaken to examine the issue of high voter turnout, and secondly, high numbers of votes cast for one candidate or another in the 20 August elections.  A final determination on the number of participants at polling stations would be made after all ballots were scrutinized, including from the South.  Only those considered legitimate would be counted.

On Monday, the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) and Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC), which were in charge of the inquiry, allowed television cameras in the room where the audit was being conducted.  It was communicated to Afghans that the process was ongoing and that people were working hard to give them results.

“There is anxiety and everybody wants this process to be over as quickly as possible,” Mr. Weber added.  The United Nations had pressed the ECC to conclude its work quickly without jeopardizing the process, so that if a second round was needed, it could be held two weeks after the final results were announced, as electoral rules stipulated.

Responding to charges that Special Representative for Afghanistan, Kai Eide, had sided with the Karzai Government in endorsing the elections’ outcome, Mr. Weber clarified that Mr. Eide had sided with the two bodies tasked with carrying out the investigation:  the IEC and ECC.  His mission was to examine regulations, including on the question of fraud, which would strengthen those institutions.  It was important to trust them and the mechanisms in place to detect fraud.

“We’ll see where the chips fall,” concerning the result.  He would not prejudge the outcome.

Asked who compiled information on the number of people at the polling stations, and why “light monitoring” of those stations was needed if not to transmit such information to Afghan institutions, Mr. Jenness said the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) had offices in 20 of the country’s 34 provinces.  Over five days -– including election day -- UNAMA staff had examined the overall electoral environment by, for example, going out to at least four polling stations, talking to observers, candidate agents, local officials, police and military, and sending their assessments to Kabul.

That information had been collected and provided to both the ECC and the IEC “sometime after” 25 August, he continued.  Only those taking part in the election process could file complaints, accompanied by evidence, with the ECC.  However, the ECC was willing to take and consider information from various sources.  In addition to the audit, it was reviewing the 2,500 complaints submitted by candidates. The United Nations had not filed a formal complaint.“If someone wants to get redress, we tell them where to go,” Mr. Jenness added.

Asked why Mr. Eide had confirmed on 30 August that he had not handed such information over, and defended his reasons for not doing so, Mr. Jenness said the ECC’s job was to respond to formal complaints lodged by participants in the Afghan electoral process:  candidates, voters and observers.  Secondly, it had agreed to accept information from various sources and it would be important to discuss with the ECC its methodologies.  The responsibility for filing complaints was with Afghans.

Adding to that, Mr. Weber said that people from “UNDP Elect” were on the IEC and there was a constant real-time information flow. Moreover, three of the five ECC Commissioners had been appointed by the United Nations.  He urged avoiding the word “monitoring”, as it carried a special connotation on elections.  “We had no monitoring role,” he said. Information had been collected to allow the Special Representative to be a political actor, vis-à-vis the ECC and UNAMA.

Pressed to clarify whether the United Nations had provided the information to the ECC, Mr. Jenness said those not participating in the electoral process -- the United Nations, European Union and others -- had no right to ask the ECC to adjudicate their cases.  It was out of an “abundance of caution” that the ECC had asked the United Nations and the European Union to send over any useful information.  He did not know whether an 80-page internal report and spreadsheet had been handed over to the IEC or ECC.

As to remarks by the Secretary-General’s Chief of Staff, Vijay Nambiar, that Mr. Galbraith had been recalled for trying to bring about anunconstitutional Government, Mr. Mullet said that that was one of various reasons.  Mr. Galbraith wanted to close 1,500 of 6,900 polling stations, as they had been placed in volatile regions.  In the end, only 500 of those stations had been closed.  It was true that Mr. Galbraith had proposed annulling the elections and setting up a transitional Government.  He also had made assertions that were “completely out of bounds” with UNAMA’s mandate regarding the elections.

Asked whether the United Nations had full confidence that Afghan courts would act according to the rule of law, Mr. Weber said that decisions to determine fraudulent voting rested with the ECC and he fully trusted that body. The Afghan courts had no role in that matter.

Mr. Jenness added that 3 per cent of returns in Afghanistan’s 2005 elections had been excluded, owing to fraud, in a decision made by the ECC.  The highest number of excluded ballots had been from Paktika province.

Concerning complaints about a lack of voter registration, among other structural flaws, Mr. Weber stressed that “this is a country in conflict” and at the bottom of the development scale.

Mr. Jenness added that “imperfections” had been well-recorded.  What was important was that Afghans had accepted the process.  “After all, it’s their election.”

To another query, Mr. Weber responded that the other two of the five ECC members had been appointed by the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission and the Supreme Court.

In response to another question on Mr. Galbraith’s appointment, Mr. Mullet said he had been a candidate among other strong candidates.  His citizenship in a country that played an important role in Afghanistan was taken into consideration.

Mr. Weber added that meetings had been held with Mr. Galbraith to request that he not unnecessarily exacerbate the divergence of views in public.

As to concerns that President Karzai would not be seen by Afghans as freely elected, Mr. Mullet said that whoever won the election would have to reach out to all sectors of Afghan society.  Afghans were waiting for the process to deliver results and until that time, they trusted the institutions to do their job.

Regarding concerns that the neutrality and credibility of the United Nations had been badly compromised by the electoral process, Mr. Weber rhetorically asked in whose eyes that credibility had been damaged.  He had not seen the Organization’s credibility diminished in the Security Council.  UNAMA’s credibility hinged on the credibility of the audit, how fraud would be addressed, and further, on how the new Government reached out to its people.  “Credibility is a long-term task,” he added.

* *** *

For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.