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

11 Oct 2009

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

KABUL - The UN's top envoy in Afghanistan Kai Eide, has just given a press conference in Kabul. He was accompanied by the US, UK, French and German ambaasdors and the European Union Special Representative and NATO Senior Civilian Representative. - Click for photos

SRSG: Thank you very much for coming here. Let me first introduce some of my colleagues: Karl Eikenberry, Ambassador to the United States; Mark Sedwill, Ambassador to the United Kingdom; Jean de Ponton d'Amecourt, Ambassador to France; Werner-Hans Lauk, Ambassador to Germany; Ettore Francesco Sequi, EU Special Representative to Afghanistan; and Fernando Gentilini, NATO Senior Civilian Representative in Afghanistan. And I do appreciate their presence which is an expression, I believe, of international unity in the work that we are doing in this election process.

Now, I have decided to address you today: Not to defend, not to attack, but to explain. I have spent all my time over the last weeks for one purpose: And that is to bring this election process forward. That’s been a difficult process, marred by so many problems, not least, as you know, by widespread fraud. So, it has not been easy and that has been my only focus.

And it is important to bring this country through this process and to continue the process of installing democracy in Afghanistan. What I have done is to implement my mandate with the full support of the international community.

Now, the allegations made by my former deputy have not only been personal attacks against me and my integrity, but they have been attacks that have, in fact, also affected the entire election process.

Let me first say that some of these allegations are based on private conversations whilst he was a guest in my home for two months. My view is that private discussions around the dinner table remain just that: private.

Other allegations concern decisions I have made, mostly in consultation with other major stakeholders during a broad range of issues throughout the entire electoral process and I would like to respond to some of them.

First, is the so-called “ghost polling stations”: It is true that my deputy tried to reduce the number of polling centres by cutting around 1,200 polling centres from the approximately 7,000 that was provisionally planned, which he claimed could not be opened. It was said then that ISAF, the US, the UK and the EU agreed on his position. This is not correct. We all understood that to pre-emptively remove 1,200 polling centres would prevent a large number of voters – primarily Pashtuns – from voting. Therefore, we did try to open as many centres as possible, including through military operations in the last week before the elections. It was also decided that a polling centre would only be regarded as open if the Independent Election Commission (IEC), and the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) could be present at the polling centre. After lengthy discussions that I chaired with the IEC, Afghan security institutions, NATO, and key ambassadors, it was our collective judgment that around 6,500 polling centres could open. At the end, because of a fluid security situation, 6,200 centres were opened.

I could not take this decision one month before the election. That would disenfranchise a large number of Afghans from voting. If we had done that, it would, in itself, have created an important element of potential instability in the country.

It is true that in a number of stations that opened in the south and south-east there was significant fraud. But it’s not only there! The extent of that fraud is now being determined.

It has been alleged that I have refused to share information. This is untrue. Information was shared with the IEC and the Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC). There was a constant sharing of information between the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) and the ECC before, during and after the elections. This was in accordance with a Letter of Understanding that I signed in May regulating such information flow. A compilation of information on what happened on Election Day was provided to the ECC on 24 August and the IEC operations centre on 31 August.

UNAMA’s staff made great efforts to collect information on Election Day. They took great risks and I am grateful for their work and their courage that they demonstrated that day. That being said, a significant portion of that information was obtained by telephone conversations from provincial offices or from Kabul to provinces, where we are not present and where we have no access. This was often second or third hand information and some changed from day to day. It is important to me that when information is shared and provided by the United Nations (UN), it must have a level of solidity that can make it authoritative. Therefore, we had to underline that the quality of this information had variable reliability and often could not be verified.

A separate but related question is the issue of voter turnout. It is true that I had strong reservations with regards to the reliability of reports relating to voter turnout in some provinces and I discussed this with my colleagues here on the table. Because information received from various international sources showed great discrepancies in the numbers in key provinces.

It should be remembered that UNAMA could not serve as an observer during these elections because we were the main party supporting the organization of the elections. So I could not engage in what would be a conflict of interest. That is a well-established principle. However, I personally insisted that UN personnel should be on the ground, wherever possible, without taking an acceptable security risk in order to contribute to deterring fraud through their presence.

It has been alleged that I accepted that the IEC drop their safeguards in order to bring President Karzai above 50 per cent and I have seen that referred to in the media. This is simply untrue again. In fact, I issued a statement on 8 September calling on the IEC not to take such a decision.

With respect to the claim that UN officials should have argued that the UN had no authority to insist that Afghans conduct honest elections, I really do not know what is being referred to. In early May, I issued a set of guidelines for the conduct of these elections that was distributed to candidates, media, electoral officials and all others engaged in the elections, and I spoke to candidates about them, I spoke to ministers about them, and I also spoke to others engaged in the process in order to try to have respect for those guidelines.

Let me say, there is a consistent principle behind all the decisions I have taken and that we have taken collectively before and after the elections. And it is a principle that I will stick to. That is: All Afghans should be given the chance to vote, and the valid votes cast by them, at considerable risk sometimes, should be counted. I believe that Afghans need a greater voice in the future of their country and that the continuing democratization is an essential endeavour. I also believe the institutional framework we have created with whatever its weaknesses – and those are weaknesses we recognize. I understand well these institutions would in the end be able to remove fraudulent votes and honour valid votes.

I remain committed to the process. That sounds worrying, perhaps. But what are we talking about? We are talking about the process laid down by the Constitution of Afghanistan. And for that I must say that I have constantly, but particularly over the last few days, received support from many Afghans as well as the international community. There is a united international community behind this approach and in my view it is the only viable road to follow. Thank you.


AL JAZEERA: My question is: UNAMA is an important organization for Afghanistan. It is also important for the elections to see the legitimacy of the future government. Do you think that (after) the results come out it will be a legitimate government for Afghanistan?

SRSG: Yes, I believe it and I continue to believe it. We are now at a critical juncture. You know we are in the last few days. We have put very solid mechanisms in place to ensure that those steps are taken correctly, and that the result reflects the vote of the Afghan people. And I do believe, therefore, firmly, that when the result is being certified it will be a result being made on a solid basis and that should be acceptable to the afghan people.

NEW YORK TIMES: I did not quite understand your point about the ghost polling stations. You said 7,200 were planned, 6,200 polling stations were actually opened. What does that mean about those 1,000? Can you make that point sharper enough? And also are you saying that information that was gathered by the UN people at the polling stations that you felt that it was unreliable and therefore was not passed on to the IEC. Did it make in to the complaints process or not?

SRSG: First the ghost polling stations: There was a provisional planning figure of almost 7,000 polling centres. My deputy argued that we should cut that down to 5,800 because the remaining 1,200 were mostly polling centres where there were serious security concerns. It was claimed that the figure above 5,800 would therefore be ghost polling stations. There wouldn’t be anybody there, we could not secure them. What we then did was to launch the Afghan National Security Forces and ISAF military operations and other endeavours in order to increase the number of polling centres that could be opened. And we didn’t succeed. We did not reach the level that I had hoped for, but we reached a higher level, a level other than the 5,000 certainly – and that enabled more Afghans, particularly in the south and south-east, to go to the polling stations. So what I am saying is that if we had gone for that solution immediately and say we can’t open them, let’s say its 5,800, then a very significant number of Afghans would have been being closed off from participating in the elections. That’s the core of this debate and we disagreed and progressively disagreed.

Then in answer to your second question – that relates to the coming information and information request. I have already explained when information was transferred both to the IEC and ECC. I have not said that all the information that was collected by UNAMA personnel lacked credibility, not at all. Much information was solid because we were on the ground. What I was saying is that a very significant portion of that information, particularly in the vulnerable provinces, were collected by telephone conversations with second hand or third hand sources and that those sources in fact sometime changed their mind from one day to another. Therefore it was very difficult to verify what was actually the situation on the ground. I have said that the information was handed over but I also had to see is this information reliable and I also had to tell both the IEC and ECC what the solidity of the information actually was. If you ask the ECC and IEC, I think they will tell you that some of the information provided the certain orientation in their work – but that the information they already had from other sources were based on a more adequate and suitable methodology for their own purposes. I am not saying that our information did not add anything. But the information they already had from other sources was main bulk of what they dealt with. So I must conclude I think nobody in the IEC or ECC will contest me that we did not in any way or I did not prevent any information to go forward that could in any sense contribute to concealing any fraud. Let me just add one sentence here which has to do with voter turnout, which has become a debated issue – on that information we received some time in international community could vary from a very few voters in a district to not only several hundreds but to several thousands, so that illustrates the problem we have in verifying the kind of information you pass on.

BBC: We keep hearing that the investigations into fraud are going to be thorough but the criteria of investigating have changed twice since these elections have been held. Ballot boxes which were brought in from the provinces were under the control of the IEC and ANA. How will we know in your words how much fraud is out there if fraud itself is not investigated thoroughly enough? Is it that the scope of investigation is too narrow that the net has not been cast wide enough?

SRSG: I think here you have to really distinguish between the roles of different institutions. UNAMA is not responsible for the process that you now pointed out. Yes I have appointed three of the five commissioners, but I do not influence them. They are carrying out their work. What I did, however, was as soon as the elections were over I called the Ministry of Interior to make sure that the protection of the warehouses, where the ballot boxes were held remain adequate. I did so again when the warehouses for the ballot boxes that were included in the sample were selected.

And then when it comes to the work of ECC, what I have done is to bring in experts that could be of assistance. I brought in a Columbian election expert who has been involved in 17 difficult elections.

BBC: That is influence.


SRSG: No, it is assistance, you can call it what you want, but I think you will find that this person has more experience from difficult elections than anybody else. I do not influence and I cannot influence because the nature of this work is completely outside of my competence. But we have brought him in so that he can be consulted by the IEC, by the ECC, and various candidates. Whenever they want, he is available to them.

He has also been through this kind of audit process before which is certainly a strong advantage. I believe he is trusted in all camps and by all institutions here. We are also following his advice, made use of statisticians, primarily Lopez Pento, a Spanish election sociologist who has worked on this for 40 years, some of the best expertise you can get in this world in order to assist and make sure that the processes being followed are as good as you can possibly get. That is what I have done. I have provided expertise that has been deeply appreciated on all sides and I believe that also this kind of expertise has enabled us to keep the process moving forward.

That is completely in accordance with our mandate to support the process but not to affect the outcome.

FREELANCE JOURNALIST: Mr Eide, notwithstanding, who is to blame for what has been happening over the last few weeks of the details of the process. Today you have the support of the international community here, but over the last few weeks, what has happened, has this not eroded the credibility of the international community and diminished its authority and reduced its influence. How do you plan to go forward from here? And I would like a clarification on what you said about not being able to be an observer to the process but you have monitored the process and released two reports. The third report, I believe, is held up. Can you clarify that?

On the last point first. It is what we have done, as you know, with the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission is to monitor political rights during the entire process. That is absolutely correct. Two reports have been presented to you. The third will be presented to you shortly. But what I would prefer is for that report to include the final stage that we are in – it is a critical stage. By including that final stage we can learn many lessons that we can draw on for subsequent elections. I think that's important.

But in the classical sense of monitoring or observing – that has not been our role. Not at all. As I have said that would have been a conflict of interest with regards to the role we have in supporting and assisting the election with the way we do through UNDP/ELECT.

Let me just add: If you are to be an observer in the formal sense, you need a mandate from the Security Council. We don’t have that mandate. If you want to observe then you need to have the tools, in terms of trained personnel. If you want to observe you also have to have the methodology and we don't have that. We have to keep the rules straight here in such a process. If not, it goes wrong.

I represent the UN and the international community. I have to respect the mandate that I have been given. I cannot go beyond it on my own. That is absolutely impossible.

Now with regard to the credibility: It's quite clear that what we’ve seen of allegations and accusations over the last period of time. Yes, it has affected me. This has been an attack on my integrity. It has not been dignified. It has not been fair or true. But that's the way it has evolved.

Of course, for the UN mission, we have suffered from that. And of course, it has had an impact on the election process because it has contributed to heightening the temperature of the discussion. Therefore, of course, the last few weeks have had a negative impact. But I must say that I have tried to abstain in taking part on that debate because I thought it was more important to focus on the process that I had been placed in charge of.

With regard to the international community as such here: I think the presence of so many of my colleagues shows one thing. There has been remarkable unity inside the international community. There have been complaints in the past that the international community speaks with so many voices – that it becomes confusing for the government and for the people. That is not the case. On all major political issues today, the international community speaks with one voice. That is a tremendous achievement that the people sitting here and others who are not here have all contributed to. It's a remarkable achievement!

One last sentence: In all these discussion that we have been having, let's not forget those Afghans who went under difficult circumstances to the polls and voted – and voted correctly. I must say I do pay tribute to those who did so and who are waiting very patiently, under difficult circumstances, for the final outcome of these elections. Thank you, again, for joining us.