STATEMENT OF THE NDI PRE-ELECTION
DELEGATION TO AFGHANISTAN
Kabul, August 18, 2004
This statement is offered by a multinational delegation organized by the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDI). From August 13 through 18, 2004, the delegation assessed the political environment in Afghanistan in advance of the October 9 presidential election and in light of the 2005 parliamentary elections. Among its activities, the delegation conducted a series of intensive meetings with a broad spectrum of Afghan political and civic leaders, governmental and electoral authorities and representative of various sectors of the international community in Kabul.
The delegation included: Zlatko Lagumdzija, Chairman of the Social Democratic Party, former Prime Minster and Foreign Minister of Bosnia and Herzegovina; Paula Newberg, Guest Scholar at the Brookings Institution and Senior Advisor to NDI, who has worked extensively in Afghanistan and its neighboring regions; Mark Braden, election law expert and former Chief Counsel to the U.S. Republican National Committee; and Patrick Merloe, NDI Senior Associate and Director of NDI Programs on Election and Political Processes. The delegation was joined by Grant Kippen, NDI-Afghanistan Country Director, and Oren Ipp, NDI-Washington Senior Program Officer, and was assisted by NDI-Afghanistan and NDI-Pakistan program staff. In addition to the delegation's combined expertise in political development, governance, election law and human rights, the delegation's members have participated collectively in more than 80 electoral and political assessments around the world, including several in south and central Asia.
The delegation's purposes were to demonstrate the interest of the international community in the development of a democratic political process and democratic governance in Afghanistan, and to present an accurate and impartial assessment of the political environment and its implications for democratic development. The delegation conducted its activities according to international standards for nonpartisan international election observation, comparative electoral practices and Afghan law. NDI does not seek to interfere in Afghanistan's election process. The Institute recognizes that, ultimately, it will be the people of Afghanistan who will determine the credibility of their elections and the country's democratic development. NDI also notes that the international community shares responsibility in ensuring that the Afghan people are able to exercise their electoral rights in their upcoming elections.
I. SUMMARY OF OBSERVATIONS
The months ahead present critical challenges for establishing democratic governance, security and sustainable peace in Afghanistan. Unless a number of essential processes affecting Afghanistan's first direct presidential election and the planned 2005 parliamentary, provincial and district council elections demonstrate to the Afghan people that the county is progressing on a democratic course, public confidence in the elections and the mandate provided by them will be subverted.
Every election is important, especially first ones, which break ground for the election process and set the mold for future elections and the broader political process. The significance of the October 9 election is increased because for the first time Afghans will choose their head of state. At the same time, the importance of the presidential election and the closeness of October 9 naturally obscure the crucial work needed to prepare a democratic process for the 2005 elections. Extraordinary efforts are needed now and in the period between the presidential and the 2005 elections, as well as beyond, to shape the country's electoral and broader political process in a manner that ensures the best possible chance for the success of post-election democratization. Otherwise, the possibilities for establishing democratic governance will face grave obstacles, and the potential for destabilization and conflict will increase.
The October 9 and the 2005 elections are not end points in democracy building by Afghans nor should they be an "exit strategy" for the international community. They must be parts of sustained and comprehensive efforts to develop democratic governance and sustainable peace, which requires sufficient time and a comprehensive common plan for nation building. These efforts are a matter for the people of Afghanistan and their leaders. The efforts require and deserve the full commitment of the international community acting in partnership with Afghans.
II. POLITICAL BACKGROUND
The past three decades have been tumultuous ones for Afghanistan, and its electoral environment is consequently complex, uncertain and unpredictable. Although factional fighting has not been fully quelled and the international effort to end terrorism still takes its toll on the country and its people, the reconstruction process has begun to give Afghans a palpable stake in their future democratic development.
This election season and the governance that it will introduce have been profoundly shaped by conditions and expectations that emerged during the country's 25 years of war. Violent civil strife, the long war against Soviet intervention, and fierce factional fighting successively caused massive internal migration and refugee flight. The consequent failure of the Afghan state, rise and fall of the oppressive Taliban movement and the emergence of Al-Qaeda not only underscored the fragility of Afghan life, but also compromised the country's place in the region and the world. All these factors now influence current political opinion and affect Afghanistan's efforts to transcend the burdens of conflict, recover from war and take important steps on the road toward democratic development.
As the short period of transitional rule since 2001 has shown, that journey will not be an easy one. Military, tribal and ethnic relationships that developed as a consequence of 25 years of war remain strong influences on Afghanistan's polity, society and economy. The end of active conflict at the close of 2001 did not erase from the public mind the past equation of political parties and fighting factions, and the ethnic, tribal and clan loyalties that are easily reinforced by internecine fighting. Skepticism about the concentration of central government powers - an enduring feature on the Afghan political landscape that was honed even more sharply during the period of communist rule - still colors perceptions of current and future governance. The unstable peace of the past thirty months is a first effort to create a new political environment for the Afghan people, but it has not yet erased the political and military fragmentation that was a distinctive cause and dismal consequence of the state's previous failures.
The international anti-terrorism coalition joined local Afghan commanders in the autumn of 2001 to remove the brutal Taliban movement from power and begin the difficult process of excising the Al-Qaeda terrorists from the region. Although most Afghans applauded this combined military action, some were rightly wary of a campaign that would rejuvenate the power of some previously discredited commanders and reinforce ethnic and regional division. The period since 2001 has seriously tested the balance between central authority needed for reconstruction, and the decentralization of power that many Afghans believe is otherwise an essential feature of the political landscape.
Creating a new political environment is therefore essential for the state and its citizens. The Bonn agreement of 2001 brought a transitional government to Afghanistan. It represented the first successful effort by Afghans and the international community to work together to reintroduce basic civilian governance to the country. Since the beginning of 2002, the United Nations and an interim Afghan government, with the support of donor governments, have established an institutional structure for transitional governance. Against enormous odds, the interim government has begun the arduous process of securing state borders and creating conditions for economic growth and political stability.
The initial appointment of Hamid Karzai as president was validated by an Emergency Loya Jirga in the summer of 2002, and a constitutional jirga in December 2003 established a foundation on which future institutions could be built and critically, elections could be organized. The autumn presidential elections of 2004, and the parliamentary, provincial and local elections scheduled for the spring of 2005, have been organized as a joint endeavor of the UN and Afghan authorities, rather than as the sole responsibility of the United Nations. Their conclusions were to signal the formal end of the transitional period under the terms of the Bonn Agreement.
The exercise of sovereignty by Afghans through the electoral process, however, does not mean that conflict on Afghan soil has ended. The international coalition is still engaged in active efforts to repel resurgent Taliban forces and excise Al-Qaeda from Afghanistan and its neighbors. Coalition forces are ranged across the country, and some of the same actors who threaten the development of the Afghan state remain participants in the coalition's anti-terrorism campaign. This is but one of the many sources of insecurity within the country.
Although active factional fighting has dramatically decreased - intermittent clan disputes notwithstanding - the consequences of extended conflict shape the lives of its citizens in many ways. Human development indicators are tragically low, and it will require years of dedicated investment before Afghans are able to benefit from adequate education, health care, a sustainable food supply and a vibrant economy. Civic administration - police, justice administration and local governance - is desperately lacking, and human resource capacity must be rebuilt; for now, almost the entire state budget is financed through international contributions. Although the international community has pledged billions of assistance dollars, the economy is threatened by the rival financial - and, ultimately, political - power of narcotics. Among the most unfortunate consequences of a poppy economy are profound insecurities that result from renewed warlord and militia activity.
Because these critical problems are uppermost in the minds of most voters, and both influence their perceptions of the political process and color the choices that they will take in upcoming elections, the commitment of Afghan citizens to the process of democratic change is extraordinarily important. It underscores the urgent need for the interim government and the international community to help them realize this promise by protecting the integrity of Afghanistan's first open elections and the prudence of the government that comes to office through them.
III. ELECTORAL CONTEXT
President Karzai promulgated by presidential decree the Political Party Law, Mass Media Law and the Electoral Law. He also appointed the six-member Interim Afghan Electoral Commission, which together with five international experts appointed by the United Nations comprise the Joint Electoral Management Body (JEMB).
The JEMB determined that the presidential and parliamentary elections are to be held separately, while the Constitution provided that every effort should be made to hold them jointly. The Bonn Agreement assumed that disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) of combatants would be completed before elections were held. This has not happened. This condition is problematic for the presidential election, and, unless DDR is substantially completed prior to the 2005 elections the condition will likely jeopardize democratization.
ELECTORAL PROGRESS TO DATE
Voter Registration: Even though many citizens faced difficult conditions, and many registration workers risked and gave their lives, a large majority of Afghans registered to vote - over 90 percent, according to official estimates. It is also estimated that approximately 40 percent of Afghan women registered to vote. The number of women who registered was particularly high in Kabul, Herat and the central highlands, while registration among women was quite low in the south. The high registration is a major accomplishment, and the number of women who registered demonstrates their determination to play a central role in the future of their country.
The voter registration demonstrates a firm desire of the people of Afghanistan to express their will about who should have the authority and legitimacy to govern. The voter registration rate indicates a mandate for democracy.
Whether large numbers of people turn out to vote, however, is likely to depend on whether citizens feel that it will be safe to go to the polls, whether they will be able to cast their votes free of fear of retribution and whether they see a choice among the candidates. These are formidable challenges in a country where an international war against terrorism is underway, where there is a resurgence of violence by the Taliban aimed at disrupting the electoral process, where militarized factional fighting is at times high - as witnessed in Herat while the delegation was in the country - and where there is not a tradition of candidates seeking popular support based on issues rather than personalities.
A broad cross section of those with whom the delegation met expressed concerns about the ability to accurately determine the percentage of eligible voters who registered. The absence of accurate census data compromises the ability to dissuade skeptics about the high level of registration even where data are accurate. Questions about the registration figures being artificially high will also make it difficult to establish full confidence in the voter turn-out rate, which is based in part on those figures.
Concerns were expressed about potentially inflated registration in some areas and incomplete voter registration in others due to inadequate administrative preparations and a lack of materials. It was speculated by some that these problems were potentially due to deliberate political discrimination. Many Pashtuns believe that circumstances of the registration process discriminated against them.
The delegation hopes that following the October 9 presidential election voter registration rolls will be corrected and the voter registration process reopened, particularly in areas where registration for the presidential election was low or nonexistent, or where women were unable to register. As part of an effort to expand the franchise, should Afghans outside the country be allowed to participate in the 2005 or future presidential elections, voter registration and voting should be extended beyond those limited areas in Pakistan and Iran contemplated for the October 9 poll. If opportunities to vote outside the country are extended, it is best to provide them to all non-residents in presidential elections.
Candidate Nominations: The nomination process for presidential candidates, which transpired without major problems, is another positive development in the electoral arena. Of the 23 persons who filed their candidacy, 18 qualified for the ballot. There were no public controversies concerning the five who failed to qualify. The number of persons who filed their candidacies, their regional and ethnic diversity, plus the fact that one of the candidates is a woman, all indicate leaders are willing to consider participation in an electoral contest as one potentially important form of political competition. The qualification of candidates without major continuing controversy indicates inclusiveness and respect for the right to stand for office.
Over a hundred citizens filed challenges with the JEMB concerning individuals seeking candidate status. This is another demonstration of citizen participation in the electoral process. Three prospective presidential or vice presidential candidates were challenged by citizens on the grounds that they had active ties to private armies, which is proscribed by the Electoral Law. The JEMB asked those prospective candidates whether they would agree to the immediate replacement of the commanders of the units cited in the challenges. The JEMB announced that the three agreed. Two of those individuals claimed that they had severed such ties long before submitting their candidacies. The third agreed to the replacement of commanders by officers of the Afghan National Army. If honored, this agreement would be a positive, if limited, step toward disarmament.
The process by which this was accomplished raises concerns, however, particularly looking forward to the 2005 elections. Article 16 of the Electoral Law does not elaborate a process by which the JEMB should evaluate citizen challenges to candidacies or how it otherwise is to determine whether those filing as candidates meet the criteria contained in the law and Article 62 of the Constitution. This poses important concerns. Citizens who lodge challenges should be ensured that their complaints will be fairly reviewed. Otherwise, electoral authorities could ignore legitimate challenges. Second, prospective candidates should be ensured that a fair review process will eliminate false or frivolous complaints. Third, transparency is required so that all concerned know that the process is uniformly and fairly applied; this will help to build public confidence in the overall electoral process.
Moreover, unless a clear process is delineated in advance of the 2005 elections, the need to verify the qualifications of thousands of prospective candidates for parliament and provincial and district council seats could overwhelm the electoral authorities, thus diminishing public confidence. There will be 249 seats in the Wolesi Jirga (the lower house of parliament), plus multiple seats in each of the 34 Provincial Councils and over 300 District Councils. The delegation notes the massive administrative and logistical undertaking for the 2005 elections compared to the presidential election, even concerning the design and security of the ballots for the 2005 elections.
The Informal Campaign: The law provides for a 30-day official campaign period prior to election day. An informal campaign by many of the presidential candidates is already underway. They are distributing flyers, traveling and organizing meetings in many places and getting out messages through local councils and mosques. Political parties and candidates report, however, that there are large "no-go" areas for all of them and additional restrictions on their travel, due to varying security concerns.
While in Kabul, political activity is largely unrestricted, in other areas there are significant problems. It is reported, for example, that in Herat political party activities have been severely limited. In Mazar-i-Sharif commanders are reportedly coercing people to turn over their voter cards in order to control political expression. In the south, southeast and in refugee camps across the Pakistan border, the Taliban are reportedly distributing flyers at night ("night letters") proclaiming that those who vote or otherwise participate in the election process will be killed. Further, in certain parts of the country political activity is completely off limits.
Civil Society Mobilization: In addition to voter registration and the presidential candidate nomination process, there are other positive developments in the electoral arena. Thirty-seven political parties have been officially registered by the Ministry of Justice, although the National United Party's completed application for registration has not been approved, even though it was filed over nine months ago. Citizen organizations have mobilized to conduct civic and voter education activities around the country, and many of the groups are concentrating on enhancing women's political participation. In addition, a coalition of civil society groups has formed the Foundation for Free and Fair Elections of Afghanistan (FEFA). FEFA is mobilizing large numbers of Afghans to act as nonpartisan monitors in polling stations on election day.
MATTERS OF PARTICULAR CONCERN
1) Balance of Powers in Government: The delegation noted that there is some controversy over the decision by the JEMB to separate the presidential and parliamentary elections. While the delegation did not consider that question, it recognizes a number of important consequences of the separation.
Whether or not there is a first round victory in the October 9 poll or a presidential run-off election is necessary, a president will be chosen several months prior to the 2005 elections. The new president will then choose a cabinet, and the executive branch will operate without the benefit of checks and balances provided by the parliament. A broad cross section of those with whom the delegation met expressed concern that the separation of the elections not be used as a mandate to consolidate executive power beyond that contemplated by the Constitution. It was further stressed that the Constitution requires that the president's appointment of ministers must be approved by the parliament; thus, the executive branch will have to operate for a period without full Constitutional legitimacy until parliament is convened.
The delegation hopes that each of the presidential candidates will pledge to the public that upon election he or she will not act in any way to abuse the power to promulgate laws in the absence of parliament or otherwise seek to consolidate powers to the executive branch beyond those set forth in the Constitution. Such pledges by the candidates and consequent action by the new president could do much to reassure the public that under his or her leadership the country will be committed to developing democratic governance.
Further, the delegation notes the need, in the absence of parliament, for the new president to engage in consultative actions to gain input on important matters from sources outside the executive. Among the suggestions provided to the delegation were convening a loya jirga, re-convening the Constitutional Loya Jirga or establishing other forms of consultations as bridges between the elections.
Once elected, it is hoped that the parliament will act expeditiously to organize itself and take up the responsible and effective exercise of its constitutional powers. Actions by the executive branch demonstrating its respect for the parliament and its desire to work cooperatively for the good of the population will enhance democratic governance and public confidence. The international community should offer its full support for the development of parliament's capacities and the development of proper relationships between the executive and legislative branches.
Similarly, much remains to be done to establish and develop rule of law institutions and proper relationships between the judicial branch, the executive and parliament. The new president and the executive branch can do much to demonstrate their commitment to achieving a strong and independent judiciary and developing rule of law institutions and processes and broad public awareness of legal rights. This too should be an important element of post election support from the international community.
2) The Parliamentary Electoral System: Elections for the 249 seats in the lower house of parliament (Wolesi Jirga), the 34 Provincial Councils and the over 300 District Councils are scheduled to be held in either April or May of 2005. The upper house of parliament (the Meshrano Jirga) is composed of one representative from each Provincial Council and each District Council, and an additional one-third of its members are appointed by the president, half of whom must be women.
The Constitution and Electoral Law require that the 249 parliamentary seats be apportioned among the 34 provinces. The Electoral Law further requires that each province will constitute a multi-member electoral district, and that each voter may chose only one candidate from the ballot, with the province's seats going to the candidates receiving the highest number of votes. This system is referred to as multi-member districts with single non-transferable votes (SNTV).
The system makes no distinction between candidates associated with political parties and independent candidates. It places each candidate in competition with all the others, which negates some of the benefits of political party affiliation and even groupings of independent candidates with a common program. The system creates the potential for a large difference in the number of votes received by the very top candidates (who are elected to the first seats awarded) and those elected to the last seats awarded. It also means that each of the persons elected may not have a particular geographic base of voters to which he or she is accountable within the province. This weakens the potential tie between voters and their elected representatives and increases the scope and expense of representation. While this system increases the possibilities for election of independent candidates, it could also impede the development of political parties, which are necessary for long-term programs for democratic governance.
The delegation noted that the multi-member district, SNTV system adopted in the Electoral Law is highly controversial. Many pointed to its almost inevitable potential to weaken political party development, which could lead to a fractured and weak parliament. Some also noted that the system does not assist newer emerging democratic political parties that could provide leadership in democratic development. Others stressed that this could unintentionally reinforce the role of warlords and narcotics traffickers, who can finance numerous individual candidates. The delegation would hope that following the presidential election there could be further discussion of the relative strengths and weaknesses of this system, including the need for developing parties.
3) Organizing the Elections: The manner in which elections are organized has a critical effect on whether the public and the political contestants gain confidence in the electoral process and confidence that the country is moving in the direction of democracy. Elections are not "events" or simply technical exercises. They are related to, and depend on, a broad range of institutions, processes and other factors. Building public confidence in the election process therefore is part of developing public trust in governance.
Transparency Is Needed. In order to develop confidence, the public must understand and be able to see the process at work. Transparency is key in this respect and is the antidote to mistrust and cynicism. Thus far, sufficient transparency has been lacking in Afghanistan's electoral process. For example, the Electoral Law was adopted after input from a few sources, but the political parties and others with an interested were not consulted in its development. Generally, it is not clear who makes or how decisions are made concerning electoral preparations. This affects candidates, political parties and domestic nonpartisan election monitors concerning many issues. Those responsible for electoral administration, whether Afghan or international, should take affirmative steps to clarify these matters.
Transparency is also the best way to address suspicions and allegations that Afghan election administrators are not politically impartial. In circumstances in which a sitting president appoints the electoral commissioners in an election for which he is a candidate, suspicions about a lack of impartiality are natural and can only be dispelled when the public sees that its assumptions are unfounded.
Electoral Observation Is Vital. It is therefore important to open the all elements of the election process to observation by political party and candidate agents, domestic nonpartisan election monitors, the news media and others who would like to observe. Efforts are underway by parties and candidates to train their agents for election day poll watching. In addition, Afghan civil society organizations have formed the Foundation for Free and Fair Elections of Afghanistan (FEFA). Such organizations should be further supported. The ability of this effort to mobilize large numbers of Afghan citizens to monitor the polls could add greatly to public confidence. This is all the more important in light of the decision of the European Union and the OSCE not to send election observer missions, because the security situation does not allow them to deploy teams freely throughout the country as needed to fulfill an observation mandate. The delegation understands and fully supports those decisions.
Providing Electoral Security Is Central. The ability of Afghans to participate in election processes also requires providing security for voters, election workers, party and candidate agents, news media, nonpartisan election monitors and others. Electoral security is a major undertaking in light of the ongoing war against terrorists, factional fighting and Taliban attempts to disrupt the process through violence. Security forces for the election process will include ISAF (the international NATO-led security force), Afghan National Army, police and to some extent Coalition Forces. It is not only necessary to develop an effective, comprehensive security operation for the elections, but it is essential to inform the public of the nature and the execution of such plans. This will encourage electoral participation and may serve as a deterrent to those who would use violence as a political tool.
Electoral Workers Must Be Effective. Electoral administrators estimate that 135,000 Afghans must be recruited, trained and deployed to conduct the elections in an effective and impartial manner by October 9. The fact that this massive process has not yet begun is alarming in itself. Approximately 30,000 people worked on the voter registration process, who could provide a corps of personnel for election day workers. Nonetheless, it is crucial that this process begin immediately. It is also important that the process of training electoral workers be open to observation by party and candidate agents and nonpartisan observers so that public confidence is enhanced.
Voter Education Is Essential. For elections to be meaningful, the electorate must understand their importance and the value of each individual's vote. This is even more significant in a country that is meeting for the first time in its long history the challenge of democratic elections. Voters must know not only why but also where, when and how to vote. Moreover, prospective voters must come to believe that their vote will be secret, and there will be effective safeguards against post-election retribution for their choice at the ballot box. The electorate must also know that complaint mechanisms and other measures are in place to ensure the integrity of its choices. Measures being taken to protect personal security of voters on election day also are important in the upcoming presidential election. Massive voter education on all of these matters is essential to encourage participation and to ultimately realize universal suffrage.
An Informed Electoral Choice Is also Essential. Voters must not only be able to cast their ballots freely, they must be able to make informed choices among the electoral contestants - or else elections are hollow exercises. Candidates also must be able to communicate their messages to seek public support if they are to realize their right to be elected. Parties and candidates therefore must be able to campaign freely, using a variety of ways to reach voters. The presence of 18 presidential candidates greatly increases these challenges. This aspect of elections also has a significant security dimension. Local authorities must provide security to electoral contestants on an impartial basis as well as providing security for voters to participate in campaign events. Another crucial dimension of this issue is access of political contestants to the mass communications media and the provision of news coverage of candidates on a balanced, accurate and fair basis. These issues are important outside the official campaign period as well as during it.
Announcing Results Must Be Expeditious and Transparent. Moving the ballots to provincial or other counting centers also presents a major security issue. In order to promote confidence in the highly sensitive matters of counting ballots and determining results, a number of safeguards and transparency measures will be needed.
Political party and candidate agents as well as nonpartisan observers should be given copies of the tally sheets showing how many people cast ballots and how many ballots were in the ballot box before it was sealed and transported. Should this not be possible, presiding officers should stamp copies of the agents' and observers' own forms recording such data. Agents and observers should be allowed to accompany the ballot boxes during transport and to observe counting and tabulation processes in sufficient numbers so that they can verify that such procedures were performed properly. Copies of tally sheets from the counting and tabulation process should also be provided to them.
In addition, the counting of ballots and tabulation of results must take place expeditiously if suspicions and rumors of fraudulent manipulation are to be quelled. When electoral contestants and the public have to wait for long periods for results, fear of fraud almost always develops. Afghan authorities have suggested that the tabulation of final official results could take approximately three weeks. The delegation is concerned about the effects of such an extended period on public confidence. The JEMB should consider instituting continuous counting and releasing progressive reports on the partial accumulating of results. There is still an opportunity to prepare teams in sufficient numbers to significantly shorten the tabulation period.
4) The 2005 Elections: The planned 2005 parliamentary, provincial council and district council elections present significantly more difficult challenges for electoral authorities than those posed by the presidential election. Districting, a technically complex and politically sensitive process, particularly with dated census figures, must be completed 120 days ahead of the elections.
The drawing of district boundaries will in many cases divide areas under the control of or disputed by warlords and commanders. It therefore has the potential to spark factional violence. The slow progress in disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) of combatants, despite what was anticipated in the Bonn Agreement, jeopardizes the ability of authorities to move forward on the districting process. Unless DDR is substantially completed prior to the drawing of district boundaries it may be impossible to proceed according to the present electoral time table without generating a grave risk of provoking armed conflicts.
Delineation has yet to begin despite an anticipated increase in the number of districts, which reportedly will be over 300. Further, to ensure effective participation, voters and potential candidates should receive relevant information about their district location well in advance of election day. Proper timelines for public contribution to this process are required.
Approving candidates to stand for elections is also likely to require a much greater effort by electoral authorities than was required for the presidential election. Thousands of candidates may submit applications to compete in the Wolesi Jirga elections, and potentially thousands more may do so for the provincial and district elections. Ensuring that all these candidates meet the qualifications to compete in the elections, and allowing for grievances to be addressed, is going to require an enormous mobilization effort on behalf of the JEMB. This task is also likely to become much more difficult in light of the vested security concerns surrounding local (as opposed to national) candidates.
With so many candidates expected to run in each of the three elections scheduled for 2005, the complexities of the different ballot papers, let alone the production and distribution of perhaps several hundred different ballots, may be logistically difficult under the present electoral time frame. Organizing electoral campaigns for so many candidates will be complex and potentially volatile. In addition, unless there is massive voter education over a sustained period, many Afghan citizens will not have a genuine understanding of the voting process. The challenges for citizens to gain sufficient accurate information about the candidates needed to make informed choices at the ballot boxes will difficult. Increased voter education will mitigate the potential for problems on election day.
Also, thousands of poll workers, most of whom have not even been identified, would require intensive training in procedures that will be more complex than the presidential elections. This too will present a serious challenge in light of the lack of human and financial resources at the local level. District offices in many instances do not exist, or where they do, they are not staffed.
A local electoral process by its nature is more easily subject to abuse than a national election. Physical intimidation and other coercion of voters, poll workers, local election officials, candidate and party agents and nonpartisan election monitors is likely to be easier, more common and effective in achieving "desired" (i.e., fraudulent) results. Absent a significantly improved security environment, abuse of the electoral process has the potential to be much greater than it was for the presidential elections. In addition, establishing effective electoral complaint mechanisms to redress abuses will be difficult on the scale required for so many electoral contests.
The delegation hopes that a serious review of the necessary tasks and challenges concerning the planned 2005 elections will be undertaken by Afghan and international authorities, and others concerned with the integrity of election and political processes, immediately upon conclusion of the presidential election process, if not sooner. A realistic time frame must be established to appropriately address these issues. Should the 2005 elections fail to move the country forward on a democratic path, the consequences could be dire.
IV. FURTHER RECOMMENDATIONS
In the lead up to the presidential election, and even more importantly thereafter, the delegation strongly recommends that members of the international community reinforce their commitment to electoral processes in Afghanistan. This commitment should be made at least through the entire electoral cycle - including the planned 2005 parliamentary and district and provincial council elections. Without support from the international community, Afghan electoral authorities would be unable to successfully prepare for and administer the elections scheduled for 2005.
Further, without support for a full cycle, the initial elections will have little meaning, and could in fact endanger the entire process. In addition to the other recommendations offered in this statement, the recommendations set forth below call for the international community to commit both financial and human resources to the electoral process by:
The delegation was impressed by the enthusiasm of Afghans for the opportunity to express their political will in a way that determines legitimate leadership for their country. The delegation nonetheless notes the number and severity of the challenges and obstacles to achieving meaningful elections that could signal Afghanistan's movement toward democracy. The October presidential election could serve as a landmark in the country's democratic development; Afghan citizens and the international community should be encouraged to do everything possible to realize this goal.
The meaning of the presidential election, however, will also be defined by the nature of the planned 2005 elections and by the way Afghanistan's first elected president approaches the future balance of powers among the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government. Unless concerted and sustained efforts are undertaken by Afghans to move the 2005 elections and related political process in a significantly democratic direction, the people of Afghanistan may lose confidence in their leaders and in the potential for achieving democracy. Much is at stake in this electoral season for Afghanistan's democratic governance, stability and the lives of its people.