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Afghanistan: EU Observer Mission Head 'Hopeful' About September Elections

Emma Bonino, who heads the EU observation mission to Afghanistan for the 18 September legislative elections, told the European Parliament’s foreign affairs committee today she is hopeful of the poll’s success. The report she presented says insurgents do not threaten the electoral process as a whole, although isolated attacks against candidates and other personnel persist and large-scale attacks cannot be ruled out closer to the election date. There appear to be no insurmountable logistical problems.

Brussels, 30 August 2005 (RFE/RL) -- The top EU official preparing for elections in Afghanistan told the European Parliament today she returns from the country with a “message of hope.”

Bonino told members of the parliament’s foreign affairs committee that as long as the security situation does not deteriorate drastically and the Afghan government follows through on its own commitments, the elections have a good chance of succeeding.

Security remains the most obvious concern. A written report submitted to the parliament by Bonino says the “electoral process as a whole” does not appear to be under threat.

However, in her spoken remarks, Bonino indicated the calm is at best relative.

“It is clear that the whole region in the south and southeast is suffering from significant disturbances, even in the presence of the 20,000 or so multinational troops. The rest of the country is fairly -- in quotation marks -- calm. If not then that is because of the more or less ubiquitous criminality linked to drug trafficking, militias, or other things. I believe that an increase of these violent activities in the run-up to the elections cannot be ruled out,” Bonino said.

The EU is currently fielding 70 officials who cover 28 out of the 34 provinces. Bonino’s report says the provinces of Kunar, Khost, Uruzgan, and Zabul are too dangerous for any EU personnel to visit. The same applies to parts of other provinces in south and south-central Afghanistan.

By election day on 18 September, the EU will have up to 140 observers in Afghanistan. The EU mission will be by far the largest monitoring presence in the country. Much of its work will rely on some 7,000 local assistants who are being specially trained for the occasion.

Bonino today highlighted numerous logistical complications. She said 2,000 donkeys were needed to transport ballots to the mountains. The indelible ink used to mark voters who have cast their ballots must be brought in from Canada and then distributed across the country. The voting cabins are manufactured in Pakistan, while the 14 million ballots are printed in England and Austria.

Bonino’s report notes that voter registration for the 2004 presidential elections had been “clearly incomplete.” This year, approximately 1.7 million new voting cards have been issued. The process of registration is still ongoing, and will only end on 8 September. The total number is expected to exceed 12.5 million. Women currently make up 44 percent of the registered voters, although Bonino notes that there are many indications of “proxy registration of female voters.”

Bonino said today that overall, women’s active participation is “good news.”

“There is significant participation on the part of women, they make up 10 percent of the candidates and 44 percent of the registered voters. This an improvement on the presidential elections of [last] October. And there is a quota system which will ensure that at least 25 percent of the parliament will consist of women,” Bonino said.

The EU observer mission offers some criticism of what the report describes as a “highly questionable” vetting process of candidates suspected of past human rights violations or links to armed groups.

Bonino told the parliament today that process appears to be opaque to outside scrutiny. So far, only 11 candidates out of a total of more than 200 suspected warlords have been struck from the list of candidates.

Bonino says this appears to reflect a conscious policy on the part of the Afghan government.

“It is clear that the political line that has been chosen is one of inclusion of commanders, one of not excluding anyone, so as to avoid a violent backlash during the transition. It is therefore possible that commanders with known links to militias will end up in parliament. It is a question on which we do not yet have a position, but we’re studying it,” Bonino said.

Bonino also said there have been numerous reports of intimidation of candidates. Again, she said, the reports were “difficult” to verify independently.

Four candidates have been killed so far, the last on 28 August.

Bonino’s report says that although the official start of campaigning was to take place on 17 August, the country was “flooded” with electoral posters months ago.

On the other hand, the report notes that the campaign has not been very lively and is mostly carried out along tribal and ethnic lines “without any programmes.” It says access to airtime has emerged as the most complicated issue in the campaign so far.