Provincial candidates want poll observers on the ground

29 Jul 2009

Provincial candidates want poll observers on the ground

KABUL - Provincial Council candidates in the eastern province of Kunar want both domestic and international observers to hit the ground as soon as possible.

In an interview with UNAMA earlier this week, three provincial candidates – Sohaila Babur, Amroz Safi and Rafiullah Haidari – said though they have differences on a number of issues, they are at one in urging that strong pre-election observation is needed to deter “violation of the election code by other candidates”.

“Some (wealthy) candidates are spending an excessive amount of money in campaigning,” said Mr Safi of the Afghan Milat Party standing for a seat in the Sawkay district of Kunar.

“I was a schoolteacher with the (monthly) salary of 8,000 Afs (US$ 160). How can I spend money? Others spend a lot. If they get elected, the first thing they will do is recover the amount spent in the election campaigning by hook or by crook. They will resort to corruption,” he added.

Subscribing to Mr Safi, Mr Haidari said some candidates have been tearing down the posters of their rivals. “EU (European Union) and FEFA (Free and Fair Election Foundation of Afghanistan) have to send their observers as soon as possible,” he said.

Afghanistan’s largest domestic observer group, FEFA has said it will mobilize over 8,000 observers to all 34 provinces of the country, covering 70 per cent of about 29,000 polling stations.

FEFA Executive Director Jandad Spinghar said the recruitment of about 400 long-term observers has been completed and they are currently undergoing training in Kabul.

“They will be deployed by 6 August,” Mr Spinghar told UNAMA, adding that the rest – the short-term observers – will be deployed about four days ahead of polling day.

At the invitation of the Government of Afghanistan, the EU is mobilizing about 120 observers to accomplish “the most difficult observation mission…in an ongoing conflict country,” according to Phillipe Morillon, the head of the European Union’s Election Observation Mission.

An independent candidate from Assadabad City, Mr Haidari said rival candidates have issued threats against villagers participating in his election rallies. “The observers should be here as soon as possible,” he said.

The provincial candidates are also concerned that many eligible voters haven’t received voter ID cards. “I urge the IEC (Independent Election Commission) to distribute them now,” said Mr Haidari.

The candidates have also expressed concerns about the possible misuse on women’s voter cards at the time of polling. “Some women don’t have photos on their cards,” said Mr Safi. “In remote areas, such cards (without photos) will be misused. This is cheating. We need observers to raise these issues.”

Ms Babur, who is an incumbent in the current provincial council, has sought a re-election promising that she will raise women’s issues.

“We didn’t know the responsibilities and authority of the council,” said Ms Babur, an independent candidate from Assadabad city. “It was too late by the time we realized this. Two years passed just like that.”

There are four women candidates standing for three seats reserved for women in the Kunar provincial council. Altogether 51 candidates are vying for six open seats, which are generally won by men.

The candidates are also concerned that the media haven’t given enough attention to them.

“And, the government is also reluctant to provide security to the council candidates, preventing us from going outside the city areas,” said Ms Babur.

“Some PC candidates are from remote villages, where there is no media presence,” said Mr Safi. “Sometimes, we can’t invite media for security reasons. We speak to the people individually and ask for votes.”

Mr Haidari said it is not only the anti-government elements that are causing problems. “Government and international forces are also creating problems,” he said. “For example: hundreds of people were coming to attend my rally (recently). But the international forces blocked the highway and the people returned back to their homes.”

By Tilak Pokharel, UNAMA