23 MARCH 2005

Mid-September Earliest Possible Date for Afghanistan Parliamentary Elections, Special Representative Tells Security Council

Jean Arnault Says Four-Month Delay Not without Advantages, Including Time for Poppy-Eradication Campaign, Further Demilitarization

NEW YORK, 22 March (UN Headquarters) -- The choice of electoral system made in Afghanistan last month had ruled out the original option of holding parliamentary and provincial-level elections this spring and made mid-September the earliest possible date from an operational viewpoint, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative said this morning, as he briefed the Security Council on the situation in that country.

Jean Arnault, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and head of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), said that under the circumstances the timelines did not provide any breathing space.  Several thousand candidates were expected to run for the 249 positions in the Lower House and the provincial councils.  That would make the vetting process a very complex and lengthy exercise.  Similarly, the anticipated large number of candidates compelled the electoral authorities to allow a considerable period for the design, production and distribution of ballot papers.

On the other hand, holding the election four months later than initially anticipated was not without several advantages, he said, pointing out that the electoral campaign and the election itself would take place after the completion of this year’s poppy-eradication campaign.  A thorough counter-narcotics exercise in the most affected provinces would hopefully diminish the impact of drug money on the electoral process.  An election in September would also allow for more in-depth civic education of the public, candidates and parties alike, which, in turn, would enhance the magnitude and quality of participation.

Noting that the delay would give more time to complete the demilitarization process that had gained much momentum in recent months, he said that UNAMA and the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission would soon resume their joint report on the exercise of political rights during the electoral process, which had proved useful in ascertaining the political environment and in taking corrective action when necessary. Moreover, it would afford more time to prepare for the establishment of the future National Assembly.

With regard to security, he said that two roadside bombs, which had killed six people and injured 31 in Kandahar last Wednesday, were a reminder that while the security situation had improved since last October’s presidential election, complacency was not in order. That was particularly true for the United Nations since the attacks had been directed at convoys of the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS) and the World Food Programme (WFP).  Protecting the life of United Nations staff would remain a priority, with the benefit of the strengthened security arrangements that had been in place since last year.

He expressed the hope that “Consolidation of Peace”, a new initiative aimed at allowing a number of rank-and-file Taliban and fighters from other extremist organizations to disarm and resettle in their communities could contribute to the reduction of violence this year.  The programme provided for low- and mid-level fighters to enter a reconciliation process under the responsibility of the provincial governors and community leaders.  However, it did not offer unconditional amnesty and did not apply to the worst offenders among Taliban commanders and other senior leaders from extremist groups, whose capture and prosecution remained a priority for international forces and domestic security agencies.

According to the Secretary-General’s latest report on the situation in Afghanistan (document S/2005/183), the Joint Electoral Management Board is making every effort to hold the elections as soon as operationally feasible.  In doing so, a fundamental concern is to ensure that the timeliness of the tasks to be completed is not so compressed as to compromise the overall credibility of the process.  The essential tasks include vetting the candidates and ensuring that all voters are registered in the province in which they intend to vote.

The report states that while the Government strongly supported the principle of refugee participation in the parliamentary elections, it is weighing the fact that a special refugee constituency does not seem appropriate, while the alternative of absentee ballot voting presents significant technical difficulties and costs.

Regarding the issue of funding, the estimated total budget needed for the elections is $149 million, a figure that is likely to increase given the postponement until September.  Considering that $16 million was saved in 2004, and that $15 million has already been contributed, more than $128 million in additional contributions is urgently required to move forward with electoral preparations.

Today’s meeting began at 10:15 a.m. and ended at 10:30 a.m.

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