10 November 2004
Afghans Showed Remarkable Political Maturity During Recent Presidential Election, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Tells Security Council
Also Warns Next Years Parliamentary Elections Would Be Much More Complicated, Fraught with Security Concerns
NEW YORK, 9 November (UN Headquarters) -- Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Jean-Marie Guéhenno told the Security Council this morning that, while Afghans had shown remarkable political maturity during the successful presidential election, they would continue to require the international communitys full backing as they embark on the next stage of the electoral process.
He said the 9 October election, which had resulted in the election of Hamid Karzai as Afghanistans first elected President, had demonstrated that Afghans had a strong national denominator in their common embrace of the democratic process, regardless of ethnic origin or political affiliation. Against a backdrop of continued challenges posed by narcotics, extremism and factionalism, that momentous development was one of the most encouraging features of Afghanistan today.
Over 8 million ballots had been cast, representing about 70 per cent of registered voters, of which 40 per cent were women, he noted. After considering the results of the counting, the report of the impartial panel and the work of their own complaints and investigations mechanism, the Joint Electoral Monitoring Body (JEMB) had declared that Hamid Karzai had secured an outright majority of 55.4 per cent of the vote.
Noting that the successful conduct of the presidential election might result in an unrealistic expectation that elections in Afghanistan were not difficult, he said parliamentary elections would be much more complicated and fraught with security concerns than the presidential elections. Defining the essential issues for holding parliamentary and local elections within the time frame prescribed by electoral law, he stressed the need for officially delimiting the boundaries of districts, as well as vetting the qualifications of thousands of potential candidates prior to their registration.
The influence of local commanders, the widespread and tangled web of narcotics and arms, and the absence of an efficient local civil administration constituted serious obstacles to holding legitimate parliamentary and local elections, he continued. A key factor in improving the local security environment would be the ability of the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration programme to capitalize on the political momentum generated by the electoral process.
Describing the deployment of Afghan professional police as a sine qua non for safe district elections, he said no other force had the reach needed to secure close to 400 district elections in which tensions brought about by the electoral competition might be the rule rather than the exception. While domestic security forces would necessarily be called on to play a major role, international forces remained indispensable, both in the direct provision of security and in backing up national efforts.
Indeed, security remained a significant concern, he said, noting that a suicide bombing in the centre of Kabul on 23 October might have signalled the end of the period of relative calm that had prevailed during the election. A few days later, on 28 October, three electoral staff had been abducted in the Kart-e-Parwan district of Kabul in broad daylight. Securing their safe return was of paramount concern.
The meeting began at 10:15 a.m. and adjourned at 10:38 a.m.
Detailed Briefing Summary
JEAN-MARIE GUEHENNO, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, recalled that the last briefing on the 9 October presidential ballot had been provided three days after the event. Today he would update Council members on the subsequent process that had led to the certification of the official electoral results by the Joint Electoral Management Body (JEMB) on 3 November, which had declared Hamid Karzai as Afghanistans first elected President. He would also share key challenges that the Afghan leadership would need to address, with the international communitys support, over the next 180 days.
He said that on the day of elections, a number of opposition candidates had made allegations regarding the fairness of the electoral process, including complaints over the use of indelible ink to mark voters thumbs and undue influence exerted on voters by polling staff and candidates representatives.
A three-member impartial panel of international electoral experts, established on 11 October, had examined complaints lodged by presidential candidates and had conducted an extensive investigation that included consultations with the candidates themselves, observer and electoral support teams and electoral staff.
The panels report, submitted to the JEMB and made public on 2 November, had found that irregularities observed had not materially impacted the overall outcome of the election, he continued. Two days later, candidates Qanooni, Mohaqeq and Dostum, who had been most critical of the ballot process, had publicly announced their acceptance of the electoral results.
In all, some 8,128,940 ballots had been cast representing about 70 per cent of registered voters, of which 40 per cent were women, he said. After considering the results of the counting, the report of the impartial panel and the work of their own complaints and investigations mechanism, the JEMB had declared that Hamid Karzai had secured an outright majority of 55.4 per cent of the vote. Yonous Qanooni had obtained 16.3 per cent; Haji Mohammad Mohaqeq, 11.3 per cent; and Abdul Rashid Dostum, 10 per cent. The remaining 14 candidates had all received individually less than 2 per cent of the votes, and collectively 6 per cent. The Constitution called for the inauguration of the President-elect to take place 30 days after the announcement of the official ballot result.
The publication of the final results allowed the Organization to put forward an initial analysis of the vote, he said. Overall, ethnic considerations appeared to have played an important role in determining peoples votes. Electoral support for the four main contenders, President Karzai, Qanooni, Dostum and Mohaqeq, had strongly correlated with the areas where Pashtuns, Tajiks, Uzbeks and Hazaras were, respectively, the majority group. Amongst refugees in Iran, Karzai and Mohaqeq had split the vote, each receiving 40 per cent. In Pakistan, 80 per cent had voted for Karzai.
He said that pattern confirmed one of the features of the Constitutional Loya Jirga, namely, the assertion of ethnic identities. While ethnic considerations had an impact in rural areas, President Karzai and other candidates had received multi-ethnic support in major cities. That might be attributable to the fact that, since ethnic identity had not been exploited aggressively during the campaign, candidates had been able to operate widely outside their core constituencies. As a result, all candidates had received votes in all provinces of the country. More importantly, beyond ethnicity, Afghans showed that they were united in their rejection of violence, their support for a peaceful political process and the affirmation of their right to participate in it.
Attention had now shifted to the post-election phase, including the immediate task of forming the next government and the challenges of parliamentary and local elections, he said. The new President had an opportunity to select an effective and competent cabinet able to deliver the basic services expected from the government. He would also take into account the need for the cabinet to be representative of the countrys ethnic, cultural and geographical diversity. Competence and representation were, therefore, key to providing a strong political platform that would enable the President to address the challenges that Afghanistan would face. Regarding the priorities of the next government, President Karzai had already indicated that security would be the most important issue, especially the further disarmament of private military forces.
Security remained a significant concern, he said. A suicide bombing carried out in the centre of Kabul on 23 October, in which two people had died, might have signalled the end of the period of relative calm that had prevailed during the election. A few days later, on 28 October, Annetta Flanigan, Shqipe Hebibi and Angelito Nayan, all three of them electoral staff, had been abducted in the Kart-e-Parwan district of Kabul in broad daylight.
With the assistance of an UNSECOORD (Office of the United Nations Security Coordinator) team and specialists offered by other governments, Afghanistans Government was leading the investigation into the incident, he said. Cooperation between the different national and international actors was ensured through a number of groups working around the clock on all aspects of the case. Securing their safe return was of paramount concern. For that reason, he was unable to share information that might compromise the ongoing process or put the three colleagues at greater risk. In the meantime, the United Nations had taken a number of special measures to enhance staff security at a time of possible increased exposure to risk. They were the most stringent staff security measures in place in Kabul since 2001.
Regarding parliamentary and local elections, he recalled that, last July, the JEMB had decided that parliamentary, provincial and district elections should be held separately from the presidential election, and not later than the next Afghan month of Saur (20 April to 20 May 2005). Embarking on that phase of the electoral process, a number of technical requirements and environmental conditions had to be carefully considered. In carrying out that complex planning exercise, the reports issued by the various observers and electoral support missions in Afghanistan during the presidential election, including those of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the European Union, the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission and other national and international organizations and groups, would be invaluable.
In the last few weeks, proposals had been made to the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) by the different components of the electoral operations, in particular the JEMB and its secretariat, as well as national security agencies and international military forces, he said. Those proposals took into account the experience gained during the presidential elections in all key areas, institutions, legal procedures, operations and security, and suggested best practices and lessons learned. The reports would be crucial in assessing various solutions for the implementation of the next elections, and in exploring different technical and operational alternatives.
The UNAMA had been discussing key issues related to electoral preparations with security and diplomatic partners in Kabul.
Continuing, he said that, in some ways, the successful conduct of the presidential election might result in an unrealistic expectation that elections in Afghanistan were not difficult. It would be a mistake, however, to become too complacent. Parliamentary elections would be much more complicated and fraught with security concerns than the presidential elections. In order to hold parliamentary and local elections within the time frame prescribed by electoral law, he defined five essential issues: boundaries of districts, and in some cases provinces, must be officially delimited; population figures must be agreed for the assignment of parliamentary seats; the voters list must be analysed, refined and, in some cases, updated, in order to prepare specific voting lists for each polling station; a complaints mechanism and electoral offence prosecution system must be developed locally; and the qualifications of thousands of potential candidates must be vetted prior to their registration.
He recognized that, implementing some of those requirements -- for example, providing more time to vet candidates - might require a revision of the electoral law. Other measures strongly recommended by most observers reports included the need to develop a vigorous capacity-building programme for domestic observers and party agents, the need to strengthen and extend civic education activities to enable voters to understand the greater complexity of parliamentary and local elections, and the need to review the structure of the electoral authority and other operational modalities to conduct those elections. Separating the presidential and parliamentary elections provided additional time to improve the environment for the conduct of parliamentary and local elections. Those would inevitably be more affected by local tensions and more susceptible to fraud and intimidation than were the presidential elections.
For that reason, he said, the influence of local commanders, the widespread and tangled web of narcotics and arms, and the absence of an efficient local civil administration continue to constitute serious obstacles to holding legitimate parliamentary and local elections. A key factor in improving the local security environment would be the ability of the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration programme to capitalize on the political momentum generated by the electoral process. As previously reported, in the few weeks before the presidential election, more than 5,000 men went through the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration process, bringing the total for the programme in one year of operations to almost 22,000 disarmed ex-combatants. The heavy weapons cantonment programme had also gained considerable momentum since September -- approximately 75 per cent of all operational and repairable weapons were now in cantonment sites.
He said that the current Afghan Government wanted to accelerate the disarmament and reintegration of those remaining militia forces that were administratively linked to the Ministry of Defence so that the process was completed by the beginning of the Afghan New Year (21 March 2005). Reintegration activities would, of course, continue further until mid-2006. Closer collaboration between the Ministries of Defence and Finance should allow for a better monitoring of government resources allocated to militia forces, including the timely suspension of payments once units were decommissioned. The initiative to link political party registration to full disarmament, which began in July, had also yielded positive benefits. It had been agreed to modify the schedule of disarmament, in order to enable three of the main political groups (Jamiat, Junbesh and Dawat) to divest themselves of their military wings and be registered in time for the parliamentary and local elections. The leaders of those parties had agreed to use their political authority to assist with full decommissioning of their former units.
While that progress had been encouraging, constant and focused attention was still required by the new Government and the international community if disarmament, demobilization and reintegration was to improve the environment in which parliamentary and local elections must take place, he stressed. The issue of irregular militias was also rapidly emerging as a problem which needed to be tackled in advance of the next round of elections. Those were armed groups that were not on the payroll of the Defence Ministry and, therefore, not included in the current disarmament, demobilization and reintegration programme. They were equally and perhaps even more destabilizing for the security of many areas of the country than the regular militias. Discussions were ongoing in Kabul, under the leadership of the Government, to examine ways to dismantle those groups through weapons collection and community development programmes.
Another factor contributing to local insecurity, he said, was the production and trafficking of illicit drugs. The narcotics trade, with its scale and corrupting influence, posed a growing threat to the State-building process and risked becoming a major impediment to holding credible parliamentary and local elections. Much greater efforts must be made to address all aspects of the problem. Last but not least, the expansion of the formal security apparatus would obviously be key to the success of parliamentary and local elections. One of the most successful aspects of the presidential round had been that adequate security conditions, by and large, were maintained. That had been achieved thanks to a comprehensive and coordinated operation involving the national army and police working with the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and coalition forces. That effort must be pursued and intensified ahead of parliamentary and local elections.
In particular, he continued, the deployment of Afghan professional police was a sine qua non for safe district elections. No other force had the reach needed to secure close to 400 district elections in which tensions brought about by the electoral competition might be the rule rather than the exception. While domestic security forces would necessarily be called upon to play a major role, international forces remained indispensable, both in the direct provision of security and in backing up national efforts. In that respect, he encouraged the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) member States to enable ISAF to deploy forces -- early and in adequate numbers -- to areas included in Stage 2 of its expansion, namely, the western provinces of Afghanistan.
In summary, he said that technical and operational requirements, and the need to create a more conducive environment, posed formidable challenges to the planning process for parliamentary and local elections. The UNAMA had initiated a process of consultations with all relevant interlocutors, including political parties, in order to formulate adequate recommendations to the Government of Afghanistan and the international community as soon as possible. He hoped that the consultations would be concluded by mid-November, at which point he would be in a position to identify financial requirements relating to the parliamentary elections. The presidential elections had demonstrated that Afghans had a strong national denominator in their common embrace of the democratic process, regardless of ethnic origin or political affiliation. That momentous development was one of the most encouraging features of Afghanistan today, against a backdrop of continued challenges posed by narcotics, extremism and factionalism.
He said that, from initial consultations carried out by UNAMA in the various regions, it transpired that the overwhelming majority of Afghans were ready, together with their political leaders, to embark on the next stage of the electoral process, which should result in the creation of representative institutions at local and national levels. The international community might be tempted to diminish its commitment to Afghanistan in the aftermath of the presidential elections. If so, it should resist that temptation. While Afghans had shown a remarkable political maturity, they must still be able to count on the full backing -- economic, financial, political and military -- of the international community. In that new, difficult stage under way, success would require the support of both the Afghans and the international community.
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