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

17 Apr 2010

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

KABUL - Transcript of press conference in Kabul by Staffan de Mistura, Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General for Afghanistan.

SRSG: Thank you for this opportunity. I would like to bring you up-to-date on one important issue which can then link to many others. It has been for more than two months pending in the air: That is the issue about the future elections of Afghanistan. As you do know, the last elections were quite controversial. There were a lot of problems. There is an intention by the President, by Afghan authorities, by the Parliament and the international community to work together in order to make the next elections, insh’allah, better and more transparent.

As you do know, there was a Presidential decree related to the elections. And there was also a subsequent Parliamentary Lower House vote, unanimous, regarding the elections. And then there was a further issue related to the Upper House which did not agree with the Lower House, and, therefore, we reached, at a certain point, a potential standstill.

Well, in that context, we have been working very hard in order to find a way through which there could be some formula that would address the possible uncertainties and give a feeling to the Afghan people that the future elections can go forward.

There were many issues, but there were three particularly important issues which were very close to the hearts and minds of the Afghans and to the concern of the international community, which is expected to help and finance these elections.

The first issue was that of selecting the chairperson of the Independent Election Commission (IEC) who would be considered by all Afghans as someone they can trust. And that selection has taken place today.

So that has happened today by the decision of the President – which has been a very important decision – that the new IEC chair will be Mr Manawi. It is a decision that the national and international community – including the UN – feels very comfortable with.

The second issue which you are very familiar with was the issue about whether the Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) will have or not have international membership. That was something that was not clear. And I’m glad to tell you that President Karzai invited me to a meeting the other day in which more than 40 elders, members, and leaders in Afghanistan were present in order to explain why these two international members of the ECC would be a guarantee of better elections and how this will not be an interference in the rightful Afghanization of these and future elections.

I did so accompanied by my new deputy, Martin Kobler, who has just joined the team and will be my right hand on this issue and many others, as well as with Carlos Valenzuela, who is our guru on elections and Carina Pirelli, who is our second guru on elections.

I’m glad to tell you that following a long meeting where I was given the privilege and opportunity of explaining to the President and to the elders – more than 40 of them – and to tribal leaders and ministers the reasons why it would be a good idea to have two international members of the ECC, that was agreed.

The two commissioners are Judge Johann Kriegler from South Africa, who is a very prominent judge and a person with international standing and recognition, and the second person is an Iraqi. Commissioner Safwat Sidqi was a member of the commission of the same rights in Iraq and is someone who has gone through similar difficult moments and has been able to go through good elections. And that team of two prominent – and trusted by the UN – personalities will be the two new international members of the ECC.

The next point was will they be only figureheads, or will they have the capacity of influencing decisions? After that debate, which his Excellency President Karzai and all the elders – accepted and agreed – was that the decisions by the ECC will be taken by the endorsement of one, at least, of the two internationals.

The third issue, which needed to be addressed and clarified, because it was being perceived as not clear enough, was the issue of the rights of women in Afghanistan regarding voting. This affects 51 percent of Afghans and the clarity we are getting for that is along the following lines: According to the Constitution, which is here and is recognized as the basic document for Afghanistan, the reserved number of female seats will be at a minimum, 68.

Again, the IEC, will always….ensure, in accordance with the Constitution, that there will be a mechanism to ensure this minimum number will always be guaranteed. We understand that it is starting to take place.

In the case of non-reserved seats won by women, in addition to 68, when a woman wins a seat and is unable to fill that seat or is obliged by circumstances to vacate it,--including intimidation,-- the next highest vote-getting woman in that area will be getting the seat.

With these areas, the IEC chairmanship; the selection of two international members and the fact that they will have more than symbolic presence and the fact that the issue of women is based on the Constitution—and the understanding about their own rights to be able to run and when they win, to hold the seat…., we feel, that based on this, and according to this being put in writing and (in the) format of guidelines for Elections 2010, we are in a position, under those circumstances, to recommend to the international community, to support financially the future elections of 18 of September 2010, insh’allah.

Let me say this has been a complicated, elaborate and a delicate process, and I want to take this opportunity to thank and congratulate President Karzai for his wise decision to adopt the agreed election guidelines for 2010 and for ensuring more credible and transparent elections.

We have to go through and respect the sovereignty of Afghanistan, and, therefore, also respect the pride of the Afghans. We also have to respect that there is a Parliament which is struggling to get through important election laws. Meanwhile, elections have to go forward and we need to do something in order to make sure there is no confusion.

At the same time, we had and need to respect the basic document of Afghanistan which was achieved after so much suffering: the Constitution.

Today, we are combining all this into a way forward, (and we are) agreed on how to have a more credible – not perfect - process for the future elections.

From that point of view, today is a small historic day, because we are avoiding excessive confusion on the institutional basis and we are combining the wishes of so many Afghans; the sensitivities that exist in Afghanistan, and the international community feeling comfortable in going forward in supporting these elections.

Thank you.


TV ONE [translated from Dari]: In view of recent comments by a UN spokesperson, I want to know your views on the UN staff member killed in the Bakhtar attack?

SRSG: Can I first reply to questions on the elections? Today we are focusing on questions on elections, but I will come back to you.

AL JAZEERA: You say that a mechanism for women’s vote is still being worked on. Do you believe you have a deal done on the representation of women now, and if that is still being worked on and other issues are still being worked on, is there a danger that the day of 18 September could slip?

SRSG: Remember, the elections are Afghan elections, they are Afghan-led, and we are helping. Having said that, if what we have been indicating today is what it is, and we are confident that it is based on this common understanding and the implementation guidelines that we are sharing with you officially, formally, then my feeling is that everything is ready for moving towards 18 September. Fifteen April, two days ago, was the deadline from which we had to start preparing it, if we were to be ready. Now we are, based on these guidelines, ready. Since you are asking the question regarding the mechanism being discussed, and I presume you are referring to the fact that we said ‘the Independent Electoral Commission, in accordance with the Constitution, will find a mechanism.’ Well, since this mechanism (to be) found in accordance with the constitution and by the Independent Electoral Commission, my feeling based on that would be that. Imagine, if you had asked me, what happens if a woman elected to fill a reserved seat is unable to fill that seat? My reply would be, then, the next highest voted woman, I repeat woman, will get it.

TAMADON TV [translated from Dari]: On the issues that were being discussed with regards to the presence of two international commissioners within the ECC, would this only be for one time? And the discussion you had with the President: Was it only for this parliamentary election or permanently that these two commissioners will be members to the ECC?

SRSG: Let’s go through these elections. Let’s make a good precedent. Let’s change the perceptions of the previous elections into a much better election and have these two very senior people (one of whom I can guarantee is not that young) to actually be with us, and it will depend on the Afghan authorities’ parliamentary side in the future. Let’s cross this bridge first. One day, and it should not be too far, Afghans should have their elections without foreigners and have such a mature democracy which they will be comfortable about, and there will be no internationals involved in it. That is something that can happen and should be happening. But, at the moment this is one bridge that we have to cross.

NEW YORK TIMES: Mr Special Representative, while the international members have a veto on decisions that are made, will they also have, as last year during the recount, (when) there was a proactive decision to take a recount by the international members…will the international members have the authority to take proactive decisions that would lead to a recount or steps in that direction, aside from the veto?

SRSG: Let me qualify again what would be the role (of the international members of the Electoral Complaint Commission). The role would be to be active, proactive members, like any other Afghan members, of that crucial commission. That depends on the personality and the competence of the people, of course, too, and their own personal engagement. Ninety-five per cent of decisions, often in these cases in the past, were taken unanimously. And five per cent required this type of very difficult decision. That is the moment when, in fact, a decision by the ECC will be taken with the endorsement of at least one of the two international experts. Otherwise, that decision will not be taken. But I would appreciate not using the word ‘veto.’ I want to respect the dignity and the honor and the sensitivity of Afghanistan and the Afghan people. We are talking about endorsement of decisions, which is a little bit of a more refined way rather (than applying) a very strong hand into it.

AZIZI TV [translated from Dari]: Can you tell us about the budget of these elections and which countries are willing to provide the budget for these elections?

SRSG: The first step is what we are doing together. The next step is to announce what we are doing today through the international community - that based on the guidelines, we as the UN are ready to recommend to the international community to actually disburse funds in order to make these elections possible. Then it is up to them to respond to that soon because the time is short and the clock is clicking and that will be the time when we are able to tell you which country is providing what amount. At this moment it would be unfair for me to predict that.

BBC RADIO [translated from Pashto]: There were concerns with regards to the international member of ECC. Now we are having two internationals in the composition of ECC. How certain is the United Nations that elections will be fair and transparent?

SRSG: The elections will be defined as fair and transparent once they take place. At this stage I can appeal with my colleagues that this is the right process in order to try to achieve those fair and transparent elections, but it is still a long road till September. And all of us will be working together to achieve that. Remember, these are Afghan elections. We are simply giving logistical and technical support at the end of the day. It is the responsibility of the Afghan authorities to ensure these elections are better than the previous ones.

DPA: Before addressing the political crisis in the country regarding the electoral law that was created between the Government and the Parliament, you made this decision—this critical deal which is against both the new law and the old law. What was the legal base for your guidelines?

SRSG: There was a law called ‘Law 2005.’ Then (there was) a decree which then became a law, according to the Presidential decision which was in February 2010. When you have a standstill and blockage between the interpretations from the Lower House, Upper House, a Presidential decree, the standstill produces no movement towards elections… (inaudible). That decree of 2010…was producing some confusion among some people and some uncertainty among many others, including the Lower Jirga. Then you have a formula in these cases in order to go forward. You have an interpretation of (the) law in a way that actually comes closer toward what will be a format of a compromise. And the guidelines serve that purpose and have been agreed upon to be, in fact, read in the context of the decree.

TOLO TV: Your Excellency, I have three questions: My first question is as SRSG, what do you think about President Karzai’s recent statements about Peter Galbraith and the last presidential election? What will be the UN’s role in the upcoming election? Also, how will you select the head of ECC in the provinces? And, finally, what will the UN do for its kidnapped workers in Baghlan?

SRSG: I will limit myself to three questions since three became four. Regarding the first question the answer is very simple: I am not going to go and revisit history and the past. We are here looking at the future of Afghanistan. What we are aiming at is to have better elections than the past one, more credible and having the national and the international community (with) a perception of an election which is better than the past. That is what we are working on. We shall look forward. Let’s turn the page and move onto a new page where we can all work together.

Regarding the UN rules (cq), they are not UN. This is Afghanistan’s election. They are Afghan elections and rules. We can help and we are going to help to make sure that they are the best as possible. And that is what we are trying to do today through these guidelines agreed and discussed.

Regarding the five Afghan colleagues working for UNOPS who have been abducted two days ago, we are very concerned, and we are very sad. For me, Afghan colleagues are as important as international colleagues. We are doing all what we can to have them back safe to their families and to their work. They were just helping Afghanistan. They were doing nothing more than that, but helping Afghanistan. They were caught in Baghlan as you know on their own route.

Minister Atmar has guaranteed and assured me that he is working very hard and we are going to work with him in order to help the situation to be solved.

BAKHTAR TV [translated from Dari]: My question is regarding international observers. Will we have international observers, as their role is crucial? If yes, how many?

SRSG to the CHIEF ELECTORAL ADVISOR: Would you like to elaborate on international observers to the elections?


CARLOS VALENZUELA, CHIEF ELECTORAL ADVISOR: Very quickly, in the previous elections as you know there was quite a lot of mobilization of the national and international observers. We always encouraged observations as an additional guarantee of transparency, of maintaining the flow of information. I should say that our goal as the international community is always strategically much more on supporting national observation. We think that it is much more important to be supporting this effort. Certainly in discussions that have taken place with the international community, there is quiet a lot of focus and interest in supporting national observation missions. And I also do know that the IEC has already asked international organizations if they want to come and participate in observing the electoral process that started already with candidates’ nomination process.

PAJHWOK [translated from Dari]: Regarding the guidelines you were talking about, can you elaborate on the content of these guidelines? Regarding the international commissioners in the ECC, if these commissioners do not agree with some of the decisions, will the decisions still be officially announced? Finally, regarding the chairman of the Independent Electoral Commission, does the UN accept him?

SRSG: Regarding your last point, of course, we accept with satisfaction. This is a decision which the President has taken in consultation with many other people I know, and everything we hear is that the person chosen, Mr Manawi, is a very solid person whom we can all feel comfortable with. Of course, like, for anyone of us, it is the facts and the decisions, and the way we handle things that will be giving an opportunity for us to be judged. And I am sure the Afghan people are going to watch very carefully and with great interest and hope the work of the new chairman whom we are congratulating on his nomination. Regarding the elaboration, I thought I did quite a long elaboration. In fact I want to apologize for being that long, but there will be a press release and that will help you in refining your own analysis on the mechanism.