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Afghanistan: EU Monitors Say Vote Well-Run Despite Security Concerns

Emma Bonino The European Union’s election observation mission in Afghanistan has released its preliminary report on the 18 September parliamentary vote. It says election day was “generally well-administered” and largely peaceful. But the EU team also observed serious shortcomings during the two-month campaign and on the day of voting. RFE/RL spoke with Emma Bonino, the head of the monitoring team, about the positive developments and some of the serious concerns.

Kabul, 20 September 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Since the beginning of July, nearly 100 EU observers have been monitoring the electoral process in 29 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces. On election day, they were joined by an additional 60 European observers.

Their preliminary report praises the vote as a significant step forward for Afghanistan’s democratic development. But it also says there were security and electoral shortcomings that cannot be overlooked.

Of top concern are the numerous reports of intimidation and “deplorable cases” in which candidates, clerics, election workers, and others have been killed.

Emma Bonino is the former European human rights commissioner and now heads the EU's electoral monitoring team. She says the security problems impeded campaigning in several parts of the country and contributed to the intimidation of voters -- about half of whom stayed away from polling stations on election day.
"While many polling stations around the country opened late -- and maintaining the secrecy of the vote was not always achieved -- polling procedures were generally followed by election officials."

Bonino told RFE/RL that one serious election-day security issue was the inability of 16 polling centers to open in six provinces -- Logar, Baghlan, Helmand, Uruzgan, Dai Kundi, and Kandahar:

“That goes to what we are saying as far as security concerns, which is not our invention. It is a real issue and a real problem. Evidently, we could even have expected a major disruption. That didn’t happen. So the electoral day has been on track. Nevertheless, this is a totally clear signal of a situation of unstable security,” Bonino says.

Overall, Bonino praised the work of the UN and Afghan officials in the Joint Electoral Management Board (JEMB), who organized the ballot for the lower house of parliament, the Wolesi Jirga, and provincial councils:

“So far, the JEMB has administered the election process generally well, with commendable openness to election stakeholders, despite the undoubted complexity of this election and the logistical and security challenges,” Bonino says.

Bonino says the EU monitors also were encouraged by the variety of candidates, including women, and the continuing emergence of a civil society in Afghanistan.

“The large number of candidates from a variety of ethnic, social, and political backgrounds offered the electorate a wide choice of political contestants. Women registered in large numbers as candidates -- 10 percent of the total. And as voters -- 45 percent. And around a quarter of the seats in the Wolesi Jirga and provincial councils are reserved for women. Civil society played an important role in the election process through the deployment of a large number of domestic observers across the country over the election-day period,” Bonino says.

But the EU team’s report says there were weaknesses in the way the pasts of candidates were investigated for involvement in war crimes -- one of the tasks of the JEMB’s electoral complaints commission.

“The electoral complaints commission was provided with insufficient resources and investigative capacity. And a number of its decisions were taken late in the election process, creating problems and uncertainty for the election authorities, candidates and voters,” Bonino says.

Bonino says the election system itself also created significant political and administrative challenges. She says the system of a single nontransferable vote should be reviewed before any future elections are conducted in Afghanistan.

Although an updated voter registration process was carried out after the presidential election of 2004, Bonino says shortcomings from last year’s registration process remain. And she noted that a final voter list was not produced for the parliamentary ballot.

She praised the free access scheme of the JEMB's media commission, which gave access to media for all candidates who applied to take part -- more than half of all candidates. But Bonino says that with the exception of the JEMB program, there was a notable absence of election-related coverage by mass media in Afghanistan.

She says civic education efforts did not adequately reach voters in remote areas and in minority enclaves. She said Afghan women remain generally less informed than male voters. And there were other problems as well:

“Election day was relatively calm and peaceful. The voting process was assessed as ‘very good ‘and ‘good’ in nearly 900 polling stations visited by the observers," Bonino says. "While many polling stations around the country opened late -- and maintaining the secrecy of the vote was not always achieved -- polling procedures were generally followed by election officials. In addition to domestic observers, large numbers of candidate’s agents were present in polling stations. And in some cases, their behavior presented concerns in terms of compliance with the code of conduct.”

Bonino says the final assessment of the election will depend, in part, on the completion of counting and tabulation. It also will depend on the certification of the results by the JEMB and the process of handling the complaints and appeals of candidates.

The EU mission plans to remain in Afghanistan until the end of October to monitor all of those phases of the election. Its final report -- with detailed recommendations on how to improve elections in Afghanistan -- is to be published by the end of the year.

See also:

RFE/RL Special: Afghanistan Votes