29 September 2004
Preparations for 9 October Afghanistan Elections on Track, Peacekeeping Under-Secretary-General Tells Security Council
NEW YORK, 28 September (UN Headquarters) -- Just 11 days from now, in a landmark development in the Bonn peace process, Afghans would go to the polls to elect their president for the first time in the history of their country, the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Jean-Marie Guéhenno told the Security Council this morning.
Updating Council members on election preparations, he said that the logistical preparations for the elections were on track for the 9 October polling date. Eighteen presidential and 36 vice-presidential candidates, including three women, representing a wide spectrum of Afghanistans political and ethnic composition had been contesting the presidential election since the campaigns official launch on 7 September. Meanwhile, the Joint Electoral Management Board (JEMB) had adopted several regulations on campaign procedures, campaign finances, electoral offences and media, which together provided the legal framework for the campaign.
The Council was last briefed on the situation in Afghanistan on 25 August by Jean Arnault, the Secretary-Generals Special Representative for Afghanistan. In that meeting, members considered the Secretary-Generals report on the situation and its implications for international peace and security (document S/2004/634). For details of the meeting, see Press Release SC/8174.
In terms of out-of-country elections, which reportedly could account for some 10 per cent of the vote, he noted that Afghan refugees in Iran and Pakistan would also vote on 9 October. Despite a slow start, registration and voting preparations in both countries were now well under way. Voting in Iran would occur in Tehran and the seven largest refugee-hosting provinces. After the polling, ballot boxes from each country would be transported to Kabul for counting.
Regarding security arrangements, he said the JEMB secretariat had developed an election security plan, which included securing polling sites and counting centres, as well as the movement of personnel and sensitive material, such as blank and filled ballots. Building on security arrangements developed during the registration process, the national police would provide security at polling sites, with the national army ensuring of the areas around sites, and the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), or the coalition, providing outer ring support.
Noting that the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration process had gained some momentum in recent weeks, he said that process was essential for the creation of an environment conducive to free and fair elections, as it would reduce the ability of local power brokers to exert undue influence during the election. More than 2,000 men had been disarmed in the past 10 days and several thousand more were being verified for inclusion in the programme. Cantonment of heavy weapons had also been accelerated in an attempt to complete the programme for all operational weapons ahead of the election.
The successful outcome of the ballot on 9 October would represent a significant step along Afghanistans path to democracy, he said, stressing the need for all to remain engaged in the remaining days before the election and beyond. The international community could not lose sight of remaining challenges, which included the preparations for the parliamentary elections, the need for a significant development of the underpinnings of a State and stemming the tide of the illicit narcotics industry.
The meeting began at 10:20 a.m. adjourned at 10:41 a.m.
Detailed Briefing Summary
JEAN-MARIE GUEHENNO, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, said that, 11 days from now, in a landmark development in the Bonn peace process, Afghans would go to the polls to elect their president for the first time in the history of their country. Providing an update on the preparations for the elections, he said that logistical preparations were on track for the 9 October polling date. All regional and provincial offices had submitted their operational plans on the basis of which material and staff had been allocated to the field offices of the Joint Electoral Management Body (JEMB). All ballot boxes and printed material had arrived. From Kabul, they were being transported to provincial offices, where they would be secured and stored. They would be further transported to polling centres immediately prior to the election.
He said that hiring the necessary polling staff was now the focus of a large and complex effort. The recruitment of 125,000 staff for approximately 5,000 polling centres throughout the country had been completed in six out of eight regions, and, in the west and south, recruitment should be finalized shortly. Staff hired so far nationwide included 5,000 site supervisors, who were undergoing training and would, in turn, train polling staff. Recruitment entailed close consultations with local communities. The cooperation of those communities proved, during voter registration, to be crucial to the process security and integrity of the process. Although recent episodes of violence in Haert had delayed operations in western Afghanistan, tensions in the area had now subsided, allowing electoral preparations to resume despite damage caused to the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) and JEMB offices on 12 September.
Eighteen presidential and 36 vice-presidential candidates, including three women, representing a wide spectrum of Afghanistans political and ethnic composition had been contesting the presidential election since the campaign was officially launched on 7 September. Although Kabul remained the focus of political activities, candidates campaigns had been active throughout much of the country, disseminating messages through state and private media and public gatherings. Meanwhile, the JEMB adopted several regulations on campaign procedures, campaign finances, electoral offices and media, which together provided the legal framework for the campaign. Those regulations further defined the free exercise of electoral rights and the responsibilities and limitations of government action with respect to elections.
He further explained that the regulations required candidates and their agents and supporters to refrain from using language that incited hatred or violence. The regulation on campaign finances defined who could contribute to campaigns and required candidates to periodically report campaign contributions and expenditures to the JEMB. That regulation also determined that public resources should not be used for campaign purposes except as part of a programme to benefit all candidates, and under the oversight of the JEMB. The regulation on media established rules for allocation of time and space in the media for political campaigns. It was worth noting that candidates were, in turn, given airtime on national radio and television.
With a view to improving the political environment, the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission and UNAMA continued to monitor and report on the exercise of political rights throughout the country. Its second report, covering the period from 8 July to 24 August, was released on 5 September. The reports had been distributed to a wide audience with the intention of drawing the attention of the Government and the international community to the need for corrective action in specific areas. They also pointed to several problems, such as media access, security, and the behaviour of local officials. And they make recommendations to allow the presidential election to realize its democratic potential. They were addressed to the Government, political parties, the JEMB and the international community. A third report focusing on campaign issues would be released by the end of September.
On the recommendation of the Media Commission, Mr. Guéhenno said that the JEMB adopted a code of conduct for the media, which provided, among other things, for accurate, fair and balanced reporting and stipulated the duty to inform the public correctly and promote democratic values. As a further guarantee of freedom and fairness, the presence of the national and international monitors, especially on polling day, would be important. Security and other constraints had made it difficult for international organizations and governments to deploy full-fledged observation missions. It was encouraging that a number of international and national monitors were being deployed to various regions. He also reviewed, in detail, the accreditation, including for national and international monitoring organizations and embassies. In total, more than 16,000 domestic observers or monitors and about 227 international monitors of special guests would closely watch the voting in the areas, mainly concentrated in the regional centres.
In terms of out-of-country elections, he said that Afghan refugees in Iran and Pakistan would also vote on 9 October. Despite a slow start, registration and voting preparations in both countries were now well under way. Registration of voters in Pakistan would take place from 1 to 3 October in 400 centres in Islamabad and in the refugee-hosting provinces of Baluchistan and north-west Frontier, after which lists would be displayed for exhibition and challenges. No registration would take place in Iran, since existing refugee identification documents would be used as voter identification cards. Voting in Iran would occur in Tehran and the seven largest refugee-hosting provinces. After the polling, ballot boxes from each country would be transported to Kabul for counting. Diplomatic missions in Iran and Pakistan had expressed interest in being accredited as special guests.
Regarding security, he said the election security plan had been developed by the JEMB secretariat in close consultation with national security agencies, ISAF, and the coalition forces. The plan included securing polling sites and counting centres, as well as the movement of personnel and sensitive material, such as blank and filled ballots. Building on security arrangements developed during the registration process, the national police would provide security at polling sites, with the national army ensuring the areas around sites, and ISAF, or the coalition, providing outer-ring support.
The security plan also identified secure routes for the transport of ballots and provided that police units would accompany them, he continued. International forces would focus especially on the sensitive aspects of the process, such as ballot transportation and counting centres. Discussions were ongoing with national and international security partners to further clarify roles, incident management and responses and communication channels.
Multiple incidents across the country on or around election day could not be excluded, he added. All efforts must be undertaken to be fully prepared to react to attacks, especially on polling sites, transportation of ballots and counting centres. The completion of ISAFs deployment to the north-east and north-west was a welcome development, although he had hoped that the second stage of its expansion could have been finalized prior to elections, in order to enable the coalition forces to focus on the east and south.
Because security forces were thinly spread out, and based on the experience during the voter registration process, one key security factor would be the involvement of local communities in protecting staff, facilities and material in their respective areas, he said. Considerable efforts were being made to define with tribal and community leaders their crucial role in local security arrangements, particularly in the east, south-east and south.
Regarding security of out-of-country registration and voting, he was grateful to the Governments of Iran and Pakistan for the considerable efforts deployed to protect electoral operations in their respective countries. In Pakistan, anonymous attempts to intimidate both voters and staff of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) -- the out of country implementing partner -- had been made in recent weeks. Those threats had been brought to the attention of the relevant authorities and he was encouraged by assurances that they would be rapidly addressed.
He said the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration process was essential for the creation of an environment conducive to free and fair elections, as it would reduce the ability of local power brokers to exert undue influence during the election. That process had gained some momentum over the past few weeks, as a result of a renewed commitment by the Ministry of Defence to implement programme; concerted engagement of local commanders by the central Government and the international community; and efforts by the Ministry of Justice to rigorously apply the law establishing that political parties could be registered only if they severed links with militia forces. As a result, more than 2,000 men had been disarmed in the past 10 days, with several thousand more being verified for inclusion in the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration programme. Cantonment of heavy weapons had been accelerated -- 50 per cent had now been cantoned -- in an attempt to complete the programme for all operational weapons ahead of the election.
In conclusion, Mr. Guéhenno said the successful outcome of the ballot on 9 October would represent a significant step along Afghanistans path to democracy. In the eleven days that remained it was incumbent on all, the Afghans and international community, to work in concert to ensure that the process was a success. The technical arrangements were on track, but were made vulnerable by the prevailing level of insecurity. The responsibility for security rested primarily with the Afghan Government. Despite considerable efforts to establish, train and deploy national army and police forces, they were not yet ready to bear the entire burden. They continued, therefore, to depend on the support of international forces.
Beyond the election, Afghans and the international community must remain engaged, he said. The international community could not afford to lose sight of the challenges that remained, including the preparations for the parliamentary elections, the need for significant development of the underpinnings of a State and stemming the tide of the illicit narcotics industry.
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