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August 6, 09

NEWS / Afghans Taking Lead on Election Security, Fighting Violations

By Stephen Kaufman
Staff Writer

Washington — Afghanistan’s August 20 elections for its next president and the members of its provincial councils will be the country’s first “truly contested” vote, says a U.S. official who is working with Afghan election officials to ensure that the vote will be inclusive, secure and credible.

Ambassador Tim Carney, who heads the U.S. Interagency Electoral Support Team in Afghanistan, told America.gov August 4 that the 2009 vote is completely under Afghan control, with the United States and other countries playing an active support role.

“It is probably the first truly contested election in modern Afghan — or in any part of Afghan history,” Carney said. The U.S. involvement is “basically … to ensure to the maximum extent possible that the Afghan authorities will conduct an election that is inclusive, that is secure and, in the final analysis, is credible.”

The ambassador said Afghanistan’s 2004 election, in which Hamid Karzai won the presidency, was “more of a selection.”

“It was an endorsement of Hamid Karzai’s stewardship of the first two years of the post-Taliban period,” Carney said. The period began in 2002 when Karzai was appointed by the country’s loya jirga, or grand council, to serve as the country’s interim president.

With insurgent Taliban forces urging Afghans to stay away from voting places and calling on members to prevent the vote, security concerns factor prominently into the planning for the August 20 vote.

Carney said Afghan national police will be present at most of the voting centers, and, in some places, the local communities will provide for their own security and guarantee the safety of the country’s Independent Election Commission (IEC). Beyond the polling centers, the Afghan National Army will ensure that people in nearby villages “are confident enough to be able to walk that number of kilometers that they will have to go in order to cast their ballot.”

Coalition forces, including NATO troops, will be providing “a much broader level of geographic security,” as well as be available to respond to incidents, he said.

The ambassador said that as of August 4 there were 3,196 candidates for the provincial councils and 38 presidential candidates. There are two female candidates for president. One-quarter of the seats on the country’s provincial councils are set aside for women. The ambassador said there are 328 women vying for a total of 420 council seats.

“You’re looking at far more women running for provincial council seats than the law actually requires,” he said.

Carney acknowledged that the women candidates have special security concerns. “Women do say that they feel under threat and indeed women have … been murdered in this country for taking on political roles or high office,” he said. Afghanistan’s Interior Ministry is providing extra police to protect them.


To ensure fairness and transparency in both the campaign season and the election, Afghanistan’s IEC includes a section that monitors the media, as well as an independent Electoral Complaints Commission.

The IEC’s media section monitors press coverage and can determine whether candidates are being covered fairly. Carney said it has heavily criticized Afghanistan’s state radio and television for “excessive coverage of the incumbent,” referring to Karzai. He said the commission had decided the state media were “grossly over-covering Karzai the candidate,” even after they differentiated between coverage of Karzai’s activities as head of state.

The IEC can require media outlets to issue retractions or rebuttals when outrageous statements are made, he said.

Carney said the Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) functions separately from the IEC and has five commissioners: a member of Afghanistan’s Supreme Court, a representative of the country’s Independent Human Rights Commission and three non-Afghans (from Canada, the United States and the Netherlands).

The ECC has a “mandate to receive complaints about violations of the electoral law, to judge and to address complaints,” he said.

So far, 270 complaints have been received. After conducting investigations, the ECC disqualified two provincial council candidates for not giving up their government jobs and fined a journalist who alleged a female presidential candidate murdered her late husband. And the IEC has brought to ECC’s attention the cases of eight presidential candidates who have failed to file financial reports explaining how they have used their campaign money.

Carney said the international community will be closely watching the August 20 election.

“It’s something of the most enormous concern to the United States. President Obama himself has underscored his belief in the importance of this election,” he said, adding there is also great interest among European Union members and “indeed of this very region itself, with its fractious politics and varied interests in Afghanistan that extend back into recorded history.”




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