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Afghanistan: UN Calls Loya Jirga Elections Flawed But Fair (Part 2)

  • Charles Recknagel

Preparations for Afghanistan's emergency Loya Jirga are in their final phases, with organizers saying they expect all elections for delegates to the assembly to be finished by mid-next week. That will set the stage for the Loya Jirga assembly to begin on schedule on 10 June. As RFE/RL reports, in this second part of a two-part series, international observers are calling the elections mostly fair, despite some cases of intimidation and bribery.

Kabul, 31 May 2002 (RFE/RL) -- In the weeks of local elections to choose delegates to Afghanistan's emergency Loya Jirga, there have been scattered but repeated reports of local power holders intimidating or bribing some rivals to withdraw their candidacies.

The United Nations said early this week that it was "deeply disturbed" at reports that participants in district elections in western Herat province were being intimidated, threatened, and even detained.

UN officials also said that, nationwide, eight Afghans associated with the run-up to the Loya Jirga were killed in May. They added, however, that they had no direct evidence that the killings were related to the delegate selection process.

At the same time, one of Afghanistan's most powerful warlords, Abdulrashid Dostum, has been elected as a delegate by voters in one of the northern districts he controls. His election has gone unchallenged by the Loya Jirga organizers, though it appears to conflict with guidelines meant to bar from participation any commanders responsible for killing civilians during Afghanistan's two decades of warfare.

Such reports of irregularities indicate some of the challenges the UN-assisted Special Independent Commission for Convening of the Emergency Loya Jirga has faced as it has sought to ensure that Afghans elect fairly their representatives to assembly, which starts meeting in Kabul on 10 June.

Now, with the local elections winding down -- the last polls are due to be held by mid-next week -- international observers say they believe the election process has been difficult but probably as good as can be hoped for, given Afghanistan's tumultuous political conditions.

Manoel de Almeida e Silva, a spokesman for the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan that is helping the Independent Commission to organize the Loya Jirga, characterized the election process as largely democratic despite its problems. "The Loya Jirga process is not a perfect one. There have been attempts at intimidation; some people sometimes talked about corruption, but overall, you have had a tremendous level of popular participation," Almeida said.

Almeida said one sign of the success of the process is that the Independent Commission -- made up of 21 prominent Afghans -- looks likely to rule out the results in just 15 districts because of irregularities. He said that in those districts, the commission will use its right to intervene and appoint delegates instead.

"In this country, there are over 380 districts. We estimate that by the time this whole process is concluded, which is in a couple of days, maybe in about 15 districts the commission will appoint delegates given the lack of [proper election] conditions in those districts," Almeida said.

Election organizers have mostly refused to comment publicly on how much intimidation has occurred in the local polls and many observers say it is almost impossible to obtain precise figures. One reason is the reluctance of many candidates who have been forced out of polls to name those who made them withdraw.

Still, a top adviser to Afghan interim-administration head Hamid Karzai said earlier this month that fraud has been reported in up to 10 percent of the polls. Shahzadah Masood said that, "in about 5-10 percent of cases, there have been some difficulties involving the use of money and use of force."

As the local-election process is set to conclude with final polls in Herat in the middle of next week, both the UN officials who helped shepherd the country through the experience say that they believe it is a major step in the long process of taking power away from the warlords and putting it in the hands of popular representatives.

Almeida said the success of the local elections for the Loya Jirga is best measured in terms of last year's Bonn accord. That UN-brokered agreement between Afghanistan's four largest factions set in motion a process intended to culminate in national elections within two years after the emergency Loya Jirga meets.

"This Loya Jirga is part of a process. The Bonn talks brought together the Afghans; they are the ones who signed the Bonn agreement. Was it representative? [It was] not perfect, but it was the best we could have at the time. The Loya Jirga now, by comparison, is much more representative than what we had in Bonn," Almeida said.

"In the third phase, as per the Bonn schedule, you have general elections in about two years. So, let's look at this as a process that has difficulties -- and let's hope it doesn't get derailed -- but it has a schedule, and so far, things are moving according to schedule," Almeida said.

The Loya Jirga is scheduled to run from 10 June to 16 June, but organizers say it could run longer if need be. However, it must conclude by 22 June. That is the Bonn-set date on which Afghanistan's new Transitional Authority, which will lead the country to general elections, is scheduled to take office.

(This concludes the two-part series on preparations for the Loya Jirga.)