Taliban Northern Alliance

In a Democracy, Elections Need Legitimacy
Afghanistan war Osama

Afghanistan Elections Face Credibility Problem

The U.S. is not the only place facing possibilities of massive vote fraud in autumn 2004.

Here are portions of an article by the Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN), part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

A local think-tank has questioned the legitimacy of Afghanistan's October elections. The Kabul-based AREU (Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit) has outlined key challenges and recommendations to boost the credibility and perceived legitimacy of the presidential and parliamentary elections.

"Fix the flaws to increase electoral legitimacy," warns an AREU briefing paper that was released this week, entitled "Free, Fair or Flawed: Challenges for Legitimate Elections in Afghanistan".

"The paper raises a number of challenges for legitimate elections ranging from questions of security, security of ballots, security of voters, security of polling stations, and also raised the question of possible use of militia forces to provide security at polling stations," Thomas Muller, a communications and advocacy manager for AREU, told IRIN.

According to the AREU, one way to prevent fraud and voter intimidation, as well as to increase the likelihood of legitimate elections, is to flood polling sites with international and domestic observers.

"But the October presidential elections in Afghanistan are likely to be observed by less than 150 international observers," Muller said.

The paper claims that, out of the US $200 million that has been spent on registration and holding presidential elections, less than $500,000 is going towards domestic monitoring.

"There is still time for the international community to come forward and provide support and funding for domestic monitoring," he said.

So far, there is just one significant Afghan observation effort -- the newly formed Free and Fair Elections Foundation for Afghanistan (FEFA) -- backed by the American-based National Democratic Institute (NDI), and funded by the US government's development agency USAID.

A FEFA member who did not want to be named told IRIN that they were training 1,500 Afghan observers, a number that would only be sufficient to observe just 12 percent of polling stations.

"They will only be in towns and cities, not in the rural areas where most people live," the FEFA member said.

Meanwhile, AREU expresses concern that in many areas it is likely that polling staff from local villages will be 'guarded' by local police all under the watchful eyes of the local warlords. "This is a recipe for electoral fraud," said Muller.

Muller also expressed concern about the recruitment and training of more than 100,000 Afghans who will run polling stations throughout the country, which has barely begun. "Nearly half of these need to be literate, half need to be women, and all need to be appropriately trained," he noted.

The United Nations in Kabul admitted that due to security concerns there were fewer observers from international electoral observation organisations. "Security is among the major concerns of these organisations," Manoel de Almeida e Silva, a spokesman for the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), told IRIN.

The UN spokesman said he did not know the specific number of international observers during the elections. However, he said that more international observers would be identified between now and the 9 October polling date.

"We have recently sent a letter to all embassies [based in Kabul] and requested them to look among the personnel that they have who would be available and willing to support this electoral process," he said. "In addition to that [domestic and international observers] the candidates and political parties can have their [own] observers."

The UNAMA official said that 125,000 Afghans would be recruited to run the one-day elections process. The Joint Electoral Management Body (JEMB) has sent 35 international and 80 national provincial trainers to train the elections workers in the provinces, he added.

"The people who will be actually working in the 25,000 poling stations will be trained."

But Muller said things could have been better if there had been an organised international response to securing and monitoring the elections. "It is too late to start asking for embassies to volunteer staff."

Also see U.S. is Badly Losing Afghanistan War

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