Press conference with the Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Kai Eide

18 Aug 2009

Press conference with the Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Kai Eide

KABUL - Transcript of press conference by Kai Eide, Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General for Afghanistan.

UN SRSG: The official campaign period for Thursday’s elections has now come to an end. And I want to start by giving some comments on how I see that campaign having been conducted.

I think overall, this has been a remarkable campaign: First of all, it has been a dignified campaign. It has been a peaceful campaign, by and large, although not without tragic incidents.

Second, it has been a vibrant debate – a debate focused on the main political challenges facing the country. It has not been a campaign dominated by accusations and counter-accusations. What we have seen is what I hoped for, which is a debate between political alternatives.

We have not only seen the Afghan public being able to see and hear their candidates, but also to see and hear their political alternatives, their political agendas. So it has been a campaign between political alternatives. And I must say that this is the first time the Afghan people have had the opportunity to see and to hear their potential leaders questioned intensively on the most important questions facing Afghanistan.

Third, there has been a great mobilization of public interest in the election campaign. As I said earlier, there have been thousands of election rallies, gathering many thousands of people. There have been media events and debates seen and heard by millions of Afghans across the country. I was warned a few weeks ago, before the election campaign started, that what we would see would be – apathy – political apathy; That turned out not to be correct.

On the contrary, there has been a mobilization of public engagement and involvement that we have never seen in this country. So all these three elements that I have mentioned make me say the campaign has exceeded my expectations. And I believe they represent a milestone in political maturity in Afghanistan.

Let me add to this: I am not trying to hide that there have been irregularities. But my overall assessment is that this has been a success for the Afghan people.

So now we have these critical days ahead of us, these challenges that we face are well documented and you are all aware of them. It’s a challenge on security primarily and it’s also a challenge in organizing polling day effectively in a country which is in conflict, which has a weak infrastructure, where remote areas are difficult to access and where the illiteracy rate is high.

I’m saying this to underline the complexity of the situation in which we’re organizing this election – complexities that we must all be aware of.

But I can assure all Afghans that everything has been done that can be done to make the elections credible and as secure as possible under the current circumstances. And I admire the work being done by the Independent Election Commission (IEC) and the Afghan and international security forces to open and secure as many polling centres as possible.

In a volatile security situation it is impossible to say how many polling centres will open on polling day – and we should all understand that. But I do believe – and I am convinced – that will be able to open more polling centres than those that were open during the last elections, which was 6,200 – and that in itself will be a success.

These are the first elections organized by Afghan institutions. And I am impressed that at every juncture, through this difficult process, they have been able to stick to a rather tight timetable and have managed the challenges well.

I now have three appeals:

The first goes to the Afghan voters. I appeal to all Afghan voters to use their constitutional right to vote and to elect their future leaders, to vote for their future and, thereby, also voting against violence.

Second, I appeal again to those who threaten with violence – and use violence – to allow Afghans to choose who should be the future leader of Afghanistan. There, I must say, having read and listened to comments of the insurgency over the last few days. I would like to repeat: this is an election organized by the Afghans themselves, not by the international community. It is an election where the international community is and remains truly, totally impartial. It is up to the Afghans to choose their own leaders – period.

Third, an election campaign is by its nature divisive. However, when the elections are over, the political establishment must come together to demonstrate that the maturity of the election campaign is also reflected in a unity of purpose after the elections. Afghanistan cannot afford anything else. A national consensus must be formed to address the most critical problems this country faces.

Finally, we have, over the last few years, said much about Afghan ownership. Let me underline one thing: The international community has a long-term commitment to Afghanistan. But, over the next years, after these elections, I want us all to turn a page. I want Afghans and their leaders to take responsibility for their security and their development. For that we need strong institutions. These elections will be critical in enabling Afghanistan to take charge of its own destiny, and the international community to more clearly play a supporting role.

We must support Afghan ownership. The next year must bring us toward an important step in that direction. Thank you.


AL JAZEERA: I have one question: Do you think you will be able to assure the credibility of this election, with the (present) security (situation) with many rockets today in Kabul, in Jalalabad, and the roads to Ghazni are closed. Twelve per cent of polling stations will be closed. Do you still believe in the credibility of these elections?

SRSG: My answer is: yes. I do believe in the credibility of these elections. When it comes to the security situation, we did expect a more difficult security situation. We have been preparing for a more difficult security situation and that has also been at the basis for the work that has gone on over the last few weeks and months – very intensive work until the very last day.

You mentioned the number of polling stations that will be closed. No polling stations will be closed – it's a question of how many will open. You're mentioning a certain percentage. I am not aware of that percentage. You don't know. I don't know. There was a provisional planning figure of 7,000. That was a figure that also included centres that would be difficult to open because of security. Yes. But, it also included polling centres where people no longer live. So there was a very provisional planning figure. And I think when you see the number of polling centres that we will be able to be open, I believe that you will be impressed compared to the previous elections.

FOLHA MEDIA, SAO PAULO, BRAZIL: Speaking at the end of the campaign I would like to know your opinion regarding the return of General Dostum?

SRSG: First, it’s the right of every Afghan to return to his own country. I would like to answer that question in a slightly more general way. It’s more useful and it’s a repetition of what I said at an occasion a few months ago, when I expressed my views with regard to a particular individual.

I believe that with all the challenges that this country is facing, the leaders of this country must be those who will and are able to look toward the future and not keep us in the past.

I believe that we have seen over the last few months a government which has improved in competence with new reform oriented politicians. I expect that when the future government is shaped that we must see and will see more of these competent and reform oriented politicians that can bring Afghanistan forward and prevent these institutions from being tainted with the past.

I have spoken to several candidates about this: The dimensions of the problems that we are facing and that we have to address and the tremendous need for competence in the team that is going to lead this country forward. I believe and expect that they are all fully aware of that.

VOA: There have been reports that apparently there haven’t been enough female voters and also that the numbers of women to do searches of women at polling stations on Thursday and staff polling booths themselves will not be adequate. Has there been a general failure to provide sufficiently for registration and at the ballot boxes for females?

SRSG: First with regards to the number of female candidates: I was worried a few days before the registration period finished that we will have a low number of female candidates. Now, we did end up with a higher number of female candidates than last time. Is it enough? No it's not. I want women to play a more active role in the public life in Afghanistan. With regard to the question you mentioned on women for the polling stations? There are problems in recruitment in different categories. And the phenomenon you mentioned – the need to help a big number of women to carry out that exercise at the polling centres – just illustrates the complexity of the elections and how different these elections are and how more challenging they are than any other election I have experienced.

You gave me the opportunity to answer another question: What do I think about the number of women in government? The answer is that I expect the new government to include many more women than what you see today. Today, there is only one woman that is obviously not a situation we want to be in. And also I want to see more female governors. We have one female governor in Bamyan, who is an extremely competent governor. The competent women are there and they have to be appointed to prominent positions. The female population of this country is, to a large extent, marginalized. They need role models and they need more of them. And I think when the new government is being formed and governors are being appointed, it is an excellent opportunity for the future political leadership to show that understanding. It is a human rights issue. But as I said many times before no country can develop successfully by only making use of 50 per cent of its population. The entire population must be mobilized. The women must be mobilized.

MEDIA FROM BRAZIL: There are concerns about bombs and the ballot counting system. How confident are you about the results of the elections?

SRSG: I think we have learned quite a lot from the elections of 2004 and 2005, not least with regard to the counting of ballots. And, as you know, the counting of ballots will now take place in a completely different way from what happened before. I believe also that the quality of material is better, the quality of the handling process of sensitive materials is much better.

We have put in place a number of trigger mechanisms that will enable us to hopefully avoid – in any case, the text of the trigger mechanisms I am not going to read to you as it is not appropriate nor desirable two days before the elections. But the trigger mechanisms are there.

Will we be able to completely avoid the irregularities? The answer is no. But I do believe that what we have in place is very different from the last time, and we have done the best we can to avoid and detect irregularities.

I have no illusions – there will be irregularities but I do believe that they will not be at a level that will put in doubt the credibility of the elections itself.

DPA [translated from Dari]: Do you have any concerns in general regarding polling day? If you have, what’s your concern?

SRSG: I have several concerns everyday I can tell you. I don’t want to reveal all of them to you. We all share the concerns related to security. That is my main concern. It is a concern that all of us expected to have. The security impacts so many other things. First of all, it impacts the ability of Afghans to exercise their right. The security limitations, that are the consequence of the insecurity, also have an impact on the possibility for making sure that irregularities do not take place.

ASSOCIATED PRESS: When you speak about the need to form a national consensus after elections, do you have in mind that the next government might have to have both the winners and the losers in it. Is that what you trying to say?

SRSG: This question of a broader political consensus is really of great concern to me, because, you can imagine, not only the security situation, the economic development, but there is also a possible peace process that will have to come between these elections and the elections five years later. That kind of process, particularity peace processes, cannot take place in an environment where there is not a broad consensus in the Afghan society; therefore it is important for me. Now, what shape that consensus takes in an Afghan political environment is not something that a Norwegian is going to have any firm views on.

But it is important that we understand that, yes, there will be a winner and losers. But I am concerned about the situation where the winner takes it all, so to speak. We must be able to form a consensus that is sufficient to the country to address its profound challenges.

VOA PASHTO: There are some reports in the southern provinces that local militias will be hired as national police to secure the polling stations. What is the position of the UN?

SRSG: Let me say that there has been discussion of community based security as an instrument for securing polling stations. I can assure you that there will be no single polling station open without the presence of the Afghan National Police (ANP) and the Afghan National Army (ANA), as a basis for the security of that polling station and of course, without the Independent Election Commission (IEC).

I think Dr Ludin (the head of the IEC) can describe this better for you. The presence of the IEC will depend on the presence of ANA and ANP as the basis for the security of the polling centre.

Can I just say two words at the end? You are of course free to criticize and to praise me as much you want sitting on that side of the table. But, now, I would like to use this opportunity to praise you, because the role of the media is always important in an election campaign. I think the role of the media in these kinds of circumstances in Afghanistan is of particular importance. I would like to express my admiration to you for the way you have reported the campaign and for the way you have stimulated the mobilization of the Afghan population that is a tremendously important contribution to the strengthening of democracy in this country. Thank you very much.