Press conference: Testing of indellble ink at the IEC, ahead of Parliamentary polls

14 Sep 2010

Press conference: Testing of indellble ink at the IEC, ahead of Parliamentary polls

KABUL - Dr F A Manawi, Chief of the Independent Election Commission (IEC) and UN special envoy Staffan de Mistura held a press conference at the IEC headquarters in Kabul today, where they tested the indelible ink to be used in the 18 September parliamentary elections.

PRESS CONFERENCE (near verbatim transcript: not an official electoral document, for information purposes only) 

Dr Fazal Ahmad Manawi, Chief, Afghan Independent Election Commission (IEC)

Staffan de Mistura, Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General for Afghanistan

Kabul, Independent Election Commission – 14 September 2010

Dr Fazal Ahmad Manawi [Note – this and some questions and answers are a transcript of the consecutive English translation from Dari]: Bismillah er Rahan Rahim. Once more I would like to welcome the respected journalist, radio and televisions editors and hosts and the national and international media and I would also like to welcome Staffan de Mistura the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Afghanistan.

However the main purpose of today’s press conference is the ink demonstration, which is part of our sensitive materials, and in fact - for the transparency of elections - it is one of the most effective tools.

Beside this, I would like to give you a brief introduction about the need for this ink. Unfortunately it is heard through the media that fake voter cards have been brought into Afghanistan and some people and individuals using these fake cards want to enter the electoral process, they want to misuse these cards.

We shared this issue with the security institutions, namely with National Security and the national police of the country so that people who do these kinds of illegal actions are identified and arrested and, in accordance with the Afghan laws, they are dealt with. We should make the issue totally clear that at the level there has been propaganda in this regard, such an action cannot damage the election process. First of all, the assurance the security institutions gave us is that confidently in the coming four days to the elections, some of these people who have committed these actions will be arrested. The second issue is that the cards that the Independent Election Commission has issued have clear features that can be easily distinguished from the fake cards.

However, in the days before the elections, or during the elections if some are arrested who have multiple cards or have tried to vote more than once, they will be identified by our staff and will be handed to the legal bodies. Even candidates who attempt such actions, it will cost them the removal of their names and the invalidity of the votes cast for them. We believe that all Afghans, the majority of Afghans who are eligible to vote, have received legal voter cards and by using them they can vote once for their favorite candidate.

Something that has caused concern is that one person shall not use more than one card. The demonstration of the quality ink today that will be used during the elections and which will take place in the presence of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Afghanistan, will prove to you that no one will be able to use more than one card during the elections.

I think there has been another worry, but which is of no importance, that some people have got thousands of cards and that they may use these thousands of cards. It is also thought that some people may get hold of ballot boxes and use these cards for them. This is not possible with the measures we have in place. But let’s say they do get hold of them, then what is the use of these cards?... I think this has only a propaganda purpose to undermine the election process in one or another way. Undoubtedly in this scenario of fake cards, the outside countries, neighbouring countries and somehow interested individuals may be involved.

It is worth mentioning that the ink we are using this year is one of the most high quality inks made by one of the Danish companies, and which has 25 per cent silver nitrate. What is used around the world is between 10 to 18 per cent, but we - for precautionary measures - increased it to 25 per cent. If we increase it over 25 per cent it would harm the skin and the Ministry of Public Health would not allow us to do so.

The ink demonstration we will do for you today, and if our polling staff applies it properly, no one will be able to vote more than once. Before we go to demonstrate the ink to you, I would like to ask Mr de Mistura to share a few words with you, thank you.

Staffan de Mistura: Bismellah-er Rahmann-er Raheem. Tashakor, Dr Manawi. Your words are reassuring not only to the national Afghan community but also to the international community. These elections, we know it, we can say it in advance, are not going to be perfect. Far from it, but based on what you have been doing and all the preparations that the Afghan authorities, lead by you, have been taking, we feel that they are going to be much better than the previous ones. Inshallah.

Think about it - and the Afghan people and those who are candidates and those who are going to vote should be proud of it - it is almost a miracle to have a parliamentary election so soon after the previous elections which were not good, and so much in the middle of a conflict period in a country like Afghanistan. Just the fact that these elections take place and so many candidates are exposing their own faces, their own names, and their own campaigns, and hopefully many Afghans will go and vote for them, is something that Afghanistan should be proud of.

So in order to also, in a way, convince all of us that these elections are expected to be much better than previous ones, let’s go through some of the check points on why we believe this to be the case.

Firstly, and frankly it is recognized nationally and internationally and even by the legal opposition, we have a chair of the IEC and a membership of the IEC and a chief of operations of the IEC who have been gaining the credibility and trust of everyone during this very complicated period leading up to the elections.

Secondly, we have an Electoral Complaints Commission renewed with a new chairmanship, and with two international members who have capacity to have strong participation within it.

Third, there are elements that have been substantially improved from previous elections. The quality of materials, and we will be looking together at the ink aspect of it, which is crucial in any election in the world, by the way. Serial numbers, tamper-evident bags, in other words, additional additional security arrangements around the quality of materials. The movement of the materials, so that the security around the movement and a reduction to the minimum of any type of movements is insured by far, more than in previous elections.

And procedures: 6,000 staff from previous elections have been removed. There are clear indications that there is a substantial reshuffle of the field officers prior to the election in order to insure that there are no excessive loyalties.

And now let’s address this issue of the fake cards, as being rumoured in the media and which Dr Manawi has already referred to the biggest single cause of the massive fraud in the previous election – it was not fake cards. It was the fact that the polling centre list was announced publicly only - you remember when? Only two days, two days prior to the election. This year it was announced one month before, on the 18th of August. That was the biggest cause of the massive fraud of last year. And that has been avoided. In fact, fake cards had no impact – although there were rumours about it - on the fraud of the previous election.

There are already 17.5 million cards, legal cards, issued since 2003. But the previous 2005 elections, or the largest number of voters, in 2004, was not more than seven million. And this year, based on the statistics, based on previous elections and national statistics, the voters who are eligible for voting are likely to be around 10.5 million, not the figure of 17.5 - 10.5 million. In these last elections there were around five to six million who actually voted, so let’s put things into perspective. So I feel a little bit sorry for those who are spreading the rumour, and those who are even buying and producing theses fake cards, because they are wasting their time. In addition, and we are not elaborating about it, there are new technologies which are being applied and can easily detect fake cards.

And then we have 292,000, we just learned from Dr Manawi, national agents, observers, party observers in this country for these elections, almost 300,000 people. And they will be looking around, protecting the interest of their own candidates, looking at the ink, looking at the cards, being there. That will add quite a lot to the difficulty of massive fraud.

Conclusion: based on what the international community, who is supporting the national leadership in doing this election - we are not in charge they are - feel that the new measures, in particular the issue about announcing publicly which are the polling centres one month in advance and all these other mitigating measures should give us a chance, and a chance to all Afghans, to do what they feel they have the right to do: vote in order to push for democracy. That is why there are so many candidates, that is why courageously, in spite of insecurity, so many Afghans are candidates and hopefully many will want to show that they believe in voting.

Thank you very much.

Questions and Answers:

ARIANA TV [translated from Dari]: Everyone, both in the national and international community, is trying to have a transparent election. But this comes at a time when the governmental system of Afghanistan is fully corrupt and it is at a time when some of the candidates try to kill ordinary people. And you just mentioned about the fake cards that nobody can use, why haven't you reacted about the influence of powerful people who are still running for election?

Staffan de Mistura: Thank you. Of course, I will give the opportunity to you, Dr Manawi, to do that. Every election, everywhere in the world, we hear these type of allegations and protests, about pressures and influence. But remember the vote in this country, like everywhere else, is secret and Afghans are proud people. I believe that all these rumours of pressures, which can be proven, will not be changing that much. Second, if they are identified there is an Electoral Complaints Commission which can take strong measures. Last, we already have 1,500 complaints. We are expecting after the elections at least 3,000 complaints. Why? Because 2,000 candidates are likely to lose, because there are only 249 seats. Bottom line, I think we have enough measures, seen by Dr Manawi and by the ECC to counter, control, and punish if this is taking place.

Dr Manawi: I will be brief. The electoral procedure is something different than other governmental issues. Regarding the electoral process it is not too much to say that we did try to conduct this election with the highest international standards. With regard to the procedures and decision-making we think that there are no or very few problems. But in terms of implementation we might face problems. What is important is that we are making decisions based on a law that is called electoral law. When the law allows us we act and when we do not have legal permission on the issues we cannot act. The cases you are referring to are from those areas and we cannot take actions.

Voice of America [translated from Dari]: I have one suggestion and one question. The suggestion is that when we are coming to the IEC, we face restrictions. One of those restrictions is the stamping of our hands. It's like visiting a prison. This offends the media. We hope such restrictions are lifted in the future. As for my question, Dr Manawi mentioned about the interference by some of the neighboring countries who are trying to undermine the electoral process. One of those attempts includes producing fake voting cards. Some commentators believe that those cards have been produced in Iran and Pakistan. I want to know your concerns about the elections?

Dr Manawi: Please accept my apologies because you faced such problems and restrictions in the IEC compound. I have mentioned this to the security unit to lift this restriction of stamping of hands of media persons. Unfortunately, they say, that they have to follow this security protocol and strict checking. But again, I will tell them to withhold this restriction. The last time when the Minister of Interior came he had such problems. I told the security that I will take all responsibility and his vehicle was allowed to come in. The same problem happened with the Mayor of Kabul and he turned back without visiting us.

We don't have any resources in hand which show who has printed any fake voter registration cards or which country has produced such fake voter registration cards. But we have also got help from the media, especially Radio Azadi, which has reported there is a company in Pakistan that has printed such cards. Other than that we have no documents that establish that voter registration cards have been printed outside the country. As I mentioned earlier, there are some countries that are reportedly involved in producing fake voter registration cards. It is not specific that they are neighboring countries. It could be other countries who may have political will here and who want to jeopardize the electoral process. The IEC has taken some measures and those people, if they have produced any fake voter registration cards, are now disappointed and know they cannot use these cards for their purposes and they are now trying to make propaganda and through that jeopardize the electoral process in Afghanistan.

Staffan de Mistura: One more question and then we do the ceremony.

IWPR: The question is about the issue of fake cards. Previously the chairman of the IEC said that they have received fake cards and these can be easily differentiated from original ones. Do you have an example of those fake cards so that we could see the difference between the real and the fake ones?

Dr Manawi: Absolutely. We had a meeting at the President’s office and they brought them. You know the new colour photocopy machines are very good quality ones nowadays. One needs to watch the copies very carefully to detect them, but it is not a difficult task to detect. If I had known you would like to see them I would have brought one. But be sure that there will not be any problem with that. It will not function. In contrast those who imported these cards will pay a very high price.

Staffan de Mistura: And let me add one thing. Of course your request should not be confused with the fact that there should not be too many details on the technology that is available for detecting this.

Radio Killid [translated from Dari]: You are predicting a successful election and you said that you have fired around 6,000 staff members. But some of the candidates are saying that some election staff members had offered to sell them fake cards for around 10 or 15 dollars. Those who will do this may also be thinking about how to wash off the ink. Are you aware of this or not? My second question is that the campaign will officially finish on Thursday, what is your opinion about how the campaigning has gone?

Dr Manawi [translated from Dari]: During any electoral process, rumours are frequently heard but we can not take actions based on rumours. Please, if you have cases with evidence please inform us. Human beings can make mistakes including staff members, but we will be extremely tough on them. But please give evidence and do not talk about rumours. We call on the media to not allow rumours to take over.

Reuters: With the security situation and threats against people who cast their votes from insurgents, is there concern about the turn out in these elections?

Dr Manawi [translated from Dari]: This time we have taken security very seriously, we have given this more importance. And the reason for this is that the reasons for fraud during the previous election is that there was not good security. Due to that, some incidents happened because the security force didn’t have much control over the polling centres and polling stations. But this time, almost 12 months ago we have shared all the polling sites with the security agencies, the police, the army, and the international security forces and we have specifically identified those polling stations where security was not good and where we could not open these polling stations. Some people have said that in case if you are not opening some polling stations in some areas, then people will be disfranchised from their right to vote. But I would say that we have taken other measures, that where we have closed the polling centre, in the neighbouring polling centres we have increased the number of polling stations. Where people from these areas where no polling centres are open, those people can go to other polling centres where we have increased the number of the polling stations, and in this case, no one will be disfranchised from their right to go to vote.

This time, the security forces, the Afghan national police, the Army and ISAF, are all coordinating with each other to maintain the security of the polling stations and in the upcoming three or four days we will see much improvement of the security situation in the country. Polling materials have been delivered to all the provinces without any major security incidents. This gives us hope that security during the polling process and beyond that will also be better and we will be able to conduct a transparent election.

Staffan de Mistura: On my side, if I can add to the points that were raised. First of all, no one denies that security is not a concern - we all are aware of it. In fact, it is the biggest concern for this election in Afghanistan. Let’s remember, we are not in Switzerland, we are in Afghanistan, and at the most critical period of a conflict period. On the other hand, go just look at the streets and see how courageously candidates are campaigning for this election, because they believe that democracy must be given a chance and scaring people is not the way forward.

And second, you heard it from Dr Manawi, this time there was a lot of attention and intellectual honesty in recognizing areas and polling centres which should not be open due to insecurity. And they are, as you heard, about 938 and about 14 per cent of the electorate. But the other 5,897 are being opened and that was the biggest problem in the previous elections: not acknowledging areas which were insecure. And of course finding ways to make sure that they will not be disfranchised as Dr Manawi mentioned.

The biggest test will be the courage and the determination of the Afghan people on the 18th of September to show that in spite of the security situation and through additional security measures, they will be able to show - as proud as they are - their willingness to participate in the future of their own country.