Ahead of election ‘silence period,’ UN envoy urges Afghans to use their right to vote
KABUL - Ahead of the end to the official campaigning period tonight for candidates in Afghanistan's landmark Presidential and Provincial Council elections, the top United Nations official in the country today urged Afghans “to use the chance” to shape the future of their country through “peaceful democratic means.”
Speaking at a news conference in the capital, Kabul, and referring to the remarks by members of the UN Security Council during a meeting on Afghanistan last month which he also addressed, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan, Jan Kubiš, said the 15-member Council was unanimous about the critical importance of Saturday's elections for the country’s future stability and continued international support.
“Based on good preparations, based on vigorous campaigns, based on strong enthusiasm of the people of the country, the message [of the Council] was to the people of Afghanistan: use this chance, this is your chance, this is your right, you should not allow anyone to deprive you of your right to go and vote,” said Mr. Kubiš. “And that is the message I would like to reinforce here today as well.”
The UN envoy said "a very strong message" from the international community for Afghanistan as it goes through its political and security transition is that of “confidence and hope" that the Afghan people will go with "flying colours through this process, will take part in a process that is much better prepared, including on the side of security but also technical preparations, fraud mitigation and prevention measures."
He noted that the large turnout of Afghans – both in urban and rural areas – during the election campaign period, which ran from 2 February to 2 April for Presidential candidates and from 4 March to 2 April for Provincial Council candidates, was a positive sign of people’s interest in participatiNG in the polls.
This, he added, can help strengthen the stability and unity of the country and is “one of the strong underlying arguments” behind the conviction that the elections will be successful.
“I am impressed, as most likely you are, when I see rallies of tens of thousands of people with participation not only of the people of the cities, but also from rural areas,” he said. “Now they know this is the way forward, that they cannot simply delegate their future to just a handful of individuals, that it is their right, it is their choice and it is their future and that is why they would like to give their vote and voice.”
In response to a question on foreign interference in the elections, Mr. Kubiš was adamant.
“There is no foreign interference in your elections – there is no intention. These elections are the elections of the Afghan people; Afghan political forces for Afghan candidates. It’s a real choice of Afghanistan that you will see,” he added.
The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) is providing technical support to the Afghan authorities, at their request, in the organization of the Afghan-led and Afghan-managed elections, which UN officials have described as critical to Afghanistan’s future stability and continued international support.
The 5 April elections will mark the first-ever transfer of power from one elected president to another in the country’s history.
In his comments at today’s news conference, Mr. Kubiš noted that Afghans are showing enthusiasm by participating in the election process and preparations.
“There is indeed quite a strong hope and quite a degree of confidence that the election will mark yet another indispensable step in moving forward in building democracy,” he said, “but also in providing the necessary legitimacy for the next leadership that should be accepted by the majority, and that the majority should be given an opportunity and is given an opportunity to take part in the vote.”
On security of the polls, Mr. Kubiš said the international community has acknowledged the “hard work of respective state organs to ensure the security of polling stations and polling centres, to contribute and ensure security to the extent maximum of those candidates that would like to present themselves as candidates, to ensure security for voters, and for observers, and for the agents of candidates and political parties.”
On election observation, the UN envoy noted that it is critical for the quality of the election, while stressing the role of domestic observers – supported by international observers. He also made it clear that the UN does not observe the polls because it has already been supporting the organization of the elections.
“It (poll observation) brings confidence, that indeed the votes of the people will be respected, that there will be no massive manipulation... [observers] will be present at polling centres and polling stations throughout the country to work against fraud to prevent and discourage anyone who wants to manipulate and commit fraud,” he said.
On women’s participation in the election process, Mr. Kubiš said that “it would not be conceivable to think about good quality elections without good participation of women.”
“We hope that, both as candidates and as voters, as many women as possible will go and vote and will use their chance to vote for their future, for their families, for their children,” he added.
IEC urges candidates to refrain from campaign-related activities, voters to cast ballots
Also today, the Afghan electoral body responsible for the organization of the polls, the Independent Election Commission (IEC), asked poll candidates to refrain from any campaign-related activities after the start of the so-called ‘silence period,’ starting from midnight tonight.
“The period for election campaign is ending 48 hours before the elections tonight at 12:00 a.m. and all the candidates should stop their campaign activities during the silence period and allow the people to think whom they should vote for,” said the head of IEC, Dr. Ahmad Yusuf Nuristani, at a news conference in Kabul.
The IEC chief also made an appeal to all eligible voters to take an active part in the elections and cast their votes in the favour of their favourite candidates.
“Although there are security threats, Afghans have to show to the world that these threats cannot weaken their determination to participate in the elections and shape the future of their country,” he added.
Speaking at the same event, the head of the Electoral Media Commission, Farida Nekzad, asked all media outlets not to broadcast any campaign-related programmes after the start of silence period. Ms. Nekzad also called on media outlets not to speculate about the poll results until the IEC made its official declarations.
The Media Commission also asked media organizations and the candidates to submit their financial reports to the IEC at the earliest possible.
Mr. Nuristani said that the IEC was “fully prepared” to conduct the elections, with “full impartiality,” and would not allow any internal or external organization to interfere in the process.
The election body also stopped the voter top-up registration process today, with Mr. Nuristani noting that a total of 3.8 million new voters were registered, out of which 1.3 million were female.
Similarly, he said a total of 265,000 people have been accredited for election observation. This figure includes 67 domestic observer organizations, 16 international observer organizations, 71 national media outlets, 45 international media outlets, and representatives of 31 political parties, agents of candidates.
Mr. Nuristani also said that 6,423 polling centres, including 20,600 polling stations, will be open on election day.