NESA, Election Remarks

 

Near East South Asia Center for Strategic Studies,

Washington DC, 12/02/08

 

Towards a successful 2009 Afghan Presidential Election


General Barno,
Distinguished Members of the Afghan Parliament,

 

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I would like to thank General David Barno, Professor Robert Sharp, Mr. Peter Maher, and all my friends and colleagues at the NESA Center for holding this important follow-up conference to discuss our next presidential and parliamentary elections. I am certain that the recommendations of the last gathering and this conference will assist with the proper planning of the presidential elections.

 

Ladies and Gentlemen,
The government and people of Afghanistan are aware of the security and logistical challenges in the upcoming elections. Without adequate security in the south and east, we will not be able to man every polling station and ensure the safety of Afghan and international monitors and observers, as we did in the last elections.  Furthermore, Afghans will likely be less motivated to participate in large numbers during the elections given their experience with our new parliament and the limited resources of government in delivering services, especially in the areas of rule of law, housing and food security.

 

On a positive note, the voter registration process is going well. With international assistance, voter registration began in October based on a six-month, four-phased process where people in relatively secure provinces are registered first followed by less secure districts in the south and east of Afghanistan.  

 

Despite our progress, at this stage, we have recognized a potential registration turnout problem of women in certain provinces. This is a major cause for concern. Traditionally, women’s votes represent the constructive, moderate and pro-peace choice in Afghanistan. Afghan women have vested interest in security, justice and the institutionalization of a pluralistic society in the country.  It is important that we enhance our mobilization and outreach initiatives to address the challenges that discourage women from registering and voting next year. 

 

As we implement voter registration, new and sometimes redundant debates about the date of the presidential elections have started.   Article sixty-one of our Constitution reads: “The President’s term expires at the first of Jawza (this is May 21st) of the fifth year term of the election.” At the beginning of this year, President Karzai, the Election Commission, the leadership of the parliament, and the international community—after long consultations—agreed to move the election date to November 2009 due to the hash winter during the registration period in some provinces. Recently, some members of the parliament have taken the position that the elections must take place in May 2009. I spoke with President Karzai. His position is that if the Election Commission decides to hold the elections in May 2009, the President will readily comply. The President does not want to stay in power even a day more after his term is completed.  The Election Commission and UNAMA’s position is that the May deadline is impossible to meet.

 

Furthermore the debates about the effectiveness of the single non-transferable vote (“SNTV”) and participation of Afghan refugees still continues.  The Election Commission, Afghan Government, Afghan Parliament and our international partners need to reach a final consensus whether to schedule the general elections in May or November next year; and other issues such as SNTV, participation of Afghan refugees in Pakistan and Iran; and close any further debates on these subjects.

 

To ensure security of elections, we will need a temporary surge of international troops backed by our National Army and National Police Force. To address the problems of insecurity and logistics, it is imperative to analyze those challenges on a district basis and prepare action and contingency plans accordingly.  We should clearly identify districts where security is challenging, and then find proper solutions at the district level. Outreach to our neighbors, especially Pakistan, to crackdown on cross border infiltration will be very helpful.

 

We are grateful for the coordination and the commitment from ISAF to assist Afghan security forces in securing voter registration. However, the importance of registration should be continuously emphasized to NATO.  Difficulties in providing security (including potential, direct military engagement) should not detract from commitment to voter registration. If turn out is low, the international community may have to plan for a second-round of voting due to the likelihood that no candidate clears the 50% hurdle.  The second round is likely to be considerably more tense.

 

Ladies and Gentlemen,
I would like the UN to maintain their leading coordination and oversight role. I neither believe in “Afghanization” nor in “internationalization” of major undertaking, such as elections in our fragile environment.  We need a genuine partnership between Afghanistan and our international partners to complement our strengths and weaknesses with respective rights and responsibilities on both sides. The Independent Election Commission is working hard. However, we should keep in mind that the Commission is young and less experienced and this election is particularly challenging.

 

We are also grateful to the international community for providing funding for the elections and hope that the UNAMA demand for additional resources is complied with. We are grateful to the United States government for generously pledging at the Paris Conference $200 million for the elections. We look forward to our international partners to deliver on their pledges.

 

Ladies and Gentlemen,
I would like to emphasize that none of the obstacles and challenges facing us should allow Afghans and the international community to look for alternatives, shortcuts, compromises or plan B’s. The elections will be costly and difficult, but not having a free and fair election is fatal to the political process that we jointly started. The price of the elections will be high, but the cost of not doing it will be much higher. Failure to hold the elections will be viewed as victory by the Taliban and the terrorists. Even a contested popular election is much better than a behind-the-curtain deal or a cooked up jirga.

 

No one will be allowed to short change the Afghan people. We should never let down the Afghan people and hamper their aspirations for freedom and peace in a pluralistic society. Therefore, if security is challenging, we need to work together to improve it. If logistical preparations are not on time, we need to mobilize all our resources and accelerate the process. In the long term, a pluralistic and democratic Afghanistan will be a stable country. Stabilization in Afghanistan is directly linked with stability in the region and security in the world.

 

Ladies and Gentlemen,
Elections without the genuine vetting process and procedures institutionalize the illegitimate power of those with guns and narco funds. UNAMA role, supported by the Afghan government and the international community is crucial in this process.  Leading to the elections, we would like our partners to provide clear support for the Afghan Government’s reform efforts and provide institutional support for professionally capable, moderate Afghan officials and institutions.

I am confident that with determination and closer cooperation, we can meet the expectations of the Afghan people for a pluralistic, peaceful and prosperous Afghanistan, through free and fair elections next year. I wish you success in this timely workshop and look forward to receiving your findings and recommendations.

 

Thank you.