Published on 19 Jul 2010 at 03:30
Interviewer: Hamidullah Habibi
Q: The political conflict which was engendered by the alleged fraud in last year’s presidential elections has not yet been overcome. In your opinion, how can we learn from our past mistakes?
A: In every country it is normal to learn lessons from mistakes when an election process was not implemented properly. Shortcomings are identified and reasons are evaluated; proper solutions are offered and specific recommendations are given. Usually, it is the observers and monitors of the election process who take such actions. In general, when such a process goes badly wrong, it is for the government of that country to assume the responsibility and conduct a specific assessment to evaluate the reasons and shortcomings.
Evaluations and monitoring reports on election bodies in Afghanistan show that there were many problems in the last elections; for this reason, there are three areas that should be examined for the upcoming elections to the Wolesi Jirga (lower house of Parliament).
1. Legal Framework for the Elections: We made specific proposals concerning this area. We asked for amendments to the electoral law to guarantee transparency; unfortunately, the law was amended by (President Hamid) Karzai’s legislative decree, without due legal process. In spite of the fact that Parliament exercised its right to reject the decree, it is still in force.
2. Independent Election Commission and Electoral Complaints Commission: We have seen some changes in key posts of the IEC and ECC, but more reforms are needed. For instance, the policy does not make clear that relatives of IEC staff cannot run for election, nor that IEC should not appoint relatives to staff positions.
3. Elections in the Field: The growing insecurity, lack of public outreach, the interference of some officials and the influence of cultural factors on the process are key points to be considered.
Q: What solutions should be offered to solve the abovementioned problems?
A: In order to have a successful election, potential voters, the media and civil society forums should try to play their monitoring role effectively. In addition, the IEC must try to conduct a transparent election and decrease the level of abuses. The IEC must assure people that they can conduct a free and fair election. The adoption of such measures by the IEC will increase its credibility and people will participate in election in a larger numbers. A public outreach program is another useful tool in this regard.
In addition, security organs can play a key role in the election process. They should adopt constructive measures to decrease the level of insecurity particularly in the volatile areas of the country.
Q: Analysts anticipated that the Afghan government would not allow foreign observers to monitor the Wolesi Jirga elections after President Hamid Karzai charged them with interfering in the last presidential election process; but the IEC has asked the international community to send its observers. What is your opinion in this regard?
A: In order to give legitimacy to an election, it is necessary to provide opportunity for external and internal observers to monitor the process and confirm its legitimacy. As we are new to democracy we need to learn from world experience. Therefore, the presence of international observers is a must.
On the other hand, we can trust their impartiality and their assessments will be acceptable for the public. The election process will have only fragile legitimacy if there are no internal and external observers during the process.
Q: In the recent legislative decree issued by President Karzai, the role of monitoring bodies is weak. Are you concerned about this?
A: According to the Constitution, Afghanistan civil society deserves the right to monitor any national process and to play its role to improve that process. No one can ignore that. I think there will be no obstacles for any monitoring body to observe the election process if it works in an impartial manner.
Q: What are the main problems confronting the monitoring and evaluation of the election process?
A: Insecurity is the main problem for the elections. Our ability to monitor will be limited where there is insecurity. Observers will not be able to go into insecure areas to monitor the election process. It is especially difficult for female observers to monitor volatile areas, which will cut down on the accuracy of our information. Insecurity also creates logistical problems, which negatively affect the process.
Insecurity threatens the impartiality of the monitoring process. Experience has shown that powerful candidates try to create obstacles for observers in areas under their control. Another issue of concern is the government’s lack of a specific policy on monitoring bodies.
Q: How many violations have been registered so far; who has perpetrated these abuses and in which areas?
A: You know that the registration process ended successfully and there were no major concerns about the transparency of the process. But the complaints period was not so transparent. For instance, those candidates who were alleged to have problems during registration were not given sufficient time to defend themselves. Some candidates were investigated twice while others were ignored, and so on.
I do not have the exact figures of such cases yet, but FEFA will soon publish a report about this on its website.
Q: Considering the controversy surrounding the last elections, what measures has FEFA taken so far?
A: We conducted an assessment after the presidential elections to review our problems and shortcomings. We found that we had problems in the training methodology of report writing. We have tried a lot to correct those problems. Elections and democracy are new in our country, but still we have not received the required technical support from the international community.
We have tried to standardize our programs, to impartially monitor the election process and to prepare effective reports. Compared to last year, this time we have good coordination with the ECC and IEC. We try to have an effective, standardized monitoring process.
Q: You were very worried about government interference in the ECC’s activities; how do you assess the situation now?
A: The ECC’s first problem was that it started its work late. The commission did not have sub-offices in the provinces and people were not able to submit their complaints.
Q: In your opinion, what is the main challenge towards upcoming Wolesi Jirga election?
A: Insecurity is the main challenge but IEC staff could be another problem if they do not maintain impartiality.
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