UN urges respect for continuing election audit
KABUL - As the audit process continues for the results of Afghanistan’s Presidential election run-off, top UN officials today urged the full commitment of the parties for the unprecedented and vital endeavour that should be completed without any further delays and interruption.
The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan and head of UNAMA, Ján Kubiš, noted that the world body was jointly requested by the two Presidential candidates, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah and Dr. Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, and also separately by the authorities of Afghanistan, to carry out its current role of coordinating international supervision of the audit of the 14 June Presidential run-off.
“At a time of political and electoral impasse and deep uncertainty the UN agreed to take on the responsibility in order to help the country,” Mr. Kubiš said.
“The candidates have invited the United Nations and the international community to supervise the elections, based on international best practice. We have responded to this invitation by mobilizing significant resources in support of the audit process being carried out by the electoral management bodies with international supervision,” the Special Representative added. “There is now no other option but to respect the Afghan people’s resolve to engage in the electoral process by making use of this robust mechanism that the two candidates asked for and we have constructed.”
The UN Development Programme’s Enhancing Legal and Electoral Capacity for Tomorrow (UNDP ELECT II) project had spent the last four years promoting the capacity of Afghan electoral institutions.
In response to the candidates’ 12 July agreement, facilitated by US Secretary of State John Kerry, the rigorous audit is being conducted under multi-tiered international observation and supervision. This is to ensure the full implementation of the audit checklist contained in the agreement, including the supplementary UN recommendations.
In order to achieve this over the last few weeks more than 200 full-time international observers have been mobilized and arrived in Kabul to provide complete international scrutiny of the audit.
Similarly, UNDP ELECT II advisors have been supplemented by dozens of UN elections experts released from other UN missions around the world. Finally, Jeff Fischer, a senior international expert with decades of experience working on elections for the UN and other international organizations, has arrived to closely advise the Board of the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) on international best practice as it makes decisions to validate, invalidate or recount ballots cast in the run-off and has the discretion to apply special scrutiny to any ballot boxes he deems warranted.
A round-the-clock airlift operation was jointly launched by the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and the United Nations to retrieve all of the approximately 23,000 ballot boxes to Kabul so that they can be audited under the full scrutiny of domestic and international observers, candidate agents, UN advisers and the media.
Accompanied by IEC officials, campaign agents and the Afghan security forces, some 95 per cent of the boxes have now been moved to Kabul without incident. The retrieval process will be fully completed in the next few days. Also in line with the request made by the two candidates, the ballot boxes are now secured by ISAF.
These extraordinary international mobilization and transport efforts provide the Afghan people with a mechanism to offer unprecedented reassurance that the popular will which they bravely expressed on 5 April and 14 June will be known and respected.
In past polls, operational constraints forced election officials to rely on sampling formulas or statistical trends to extrapolate the extent of fraud. For the first time, the current 100 per cent audit allows for every single ballot box from the run-off to be opened and rigorously inspected in Kabul before the Afghan and international public.
“The UN proposal on criteria for recounts and invalidations is built upon this unique opportunity,” said Mr. Fischer. “It meets international best practice, is consistent with the Afghan constitution and laws, and will produce a robust, credible and thorough audit that detects and eliminates fraudulent ballots while protecting valid votes."
Under the UN proposal now adopted by the IEC, decisions to validate or invalidate ballots will be based upon the physical and visual evidence recorded from the audit of each of the 23,000 boxes rather than numerical triggers.
As per the 12 July Agreement, this evidence is being gathered based on a 16 point checklist composed of an existing IEC checklist supplemented by five UN recommendations. As a consequence, in addition to checking the state of the ballot box, and whether ballots were marked according to procedure, the auditors are now also instructed to look for evidence of tampering with the results sheets, identical or similar patterns of the same marking on ballots, and gather relevant information from the polling station journal and voter log.
As part of the UN recommendations, candidates’ agents have also been given the right to request special scrutiny of boxes that register certain results (for example, significant differences between first and second round tallies). In order to make use of all of this additional information, the existing IEC criteria for recounts and invalidations was updated in the UN proposal.
“I fully understand that the two candidates need reassurances concerning the audit process and invalidation criteria. It could not be otherwise given the high stakes and widespread mobilization of supporters they were both able to achieve over two rounds of voting,” said Mr. Kubiš.
The process of adjudication by the IEC Board of this evidence will not begin before the end of the week, after technical preparations and data entry of information collected from the audit is carried out. Campaign agents will be provided access to these preparatory measures and the entire process will continue to be conducted under multi-tiered international observation and supervision.
As already acknowledged by the United Nations, it is also possible that unforeseen issues that require attention will arise during the course of this work. In concert with international best practice, it is to be expected that if any such patterns emerge, the United Nations will consider whether the relevant procedures and criteria require refining and updating.