Top UN envoy cautiously optimistic on upcoming Afghan polls

14 Sep 2010

Top UN envoy cautiously optimistic on upcoming Afghan polls

KABUL - Afghanistan’s upcoming parliamentary polls will be “far from” perfect, but they should be much less marred by fraud than last year’s presidential elections, the top United Nations envoy to the country said today.

Due to the efforts of the Afghan authorities and the Independent Election Commission (IEC), “we feel they are going to be much better than the previous ones,” Staffan de Mistura, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s Special Representative, told journalists today in Kabul, ahead of the 18 September polls.

He said that it is “almost a miracle” that elections are going to be held so soon after last year’s presidential elections, eventually won by incumbent President Hamid Karzai, were dogged by widespread fraud.

“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,” Mr. de Mistura stressed.

He cited several reasons why he believes the upcoming polls will be better than last years.

For starters, Mr. de Mistura noted, it has been recognized – both inside Afghanistan, internationally – that the chair and members of the IEC are trustworthy.

The Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC), he said, has been “renewed” with a new chair and two international members.

Additionally, additional security arrangements have been made to ensure the integrity of elections materials – such as ballots, tamper-proof bags and ink – the envoy pointed out.

Addressing the same press conference, Fazal Ahmad Manawi, chair of the IEC, told journalists that the ink to be used in upcoming elections is 25 per cent silver nitrate, the compound that stains the skin, compared to between 10 and 18 per cent in ink used for elections around the world.

“If our polling staff applies [it] properly, no one will be able to vote more than once,” he said.

Mr. de Mistura today also said that 6,000 staff from previous polls have been removed, with field officers having been reshuffled to ensure that “there are no excessive loyalties.” Nearly 300,000 party agents and other observers will be taking part in the polls, further preventing the possibility of large-scale fraud.

He refuted media claims that fake voting cards were the largest source of fraud in the previous election. Rather, he said, it was the fact that polling centre locations were not revealed until two days before the elections that was the main reason for irregularities.

To avoid a similar situation, the polling centre list was distributed on 18 August – one month before the parliamentary polls.

All of these actions, the official said, will help Afghans “do what they feel they have the right to do: vote in order to push for democracy.”