Briefing by Craig Jennens and Staffa Darnel, Impartial Panel of International Experts
I [Craig Jennens] have been nominated to speak on behalf of the panel. Asylum know our mandate is to deal with complaints lodged by presidential candidates concerning election day and we have been given the priority of looking at those issues where specific ballot boxes might have to be quarantined or isolated. I arrived yesterday evening and Staffa of course has been here, but we decided that although the third member had not yet been appointed, and after consultations, it was agreed that we could go-ahead with our work.
Solet I tell you about two things that we have done. The first thing that we did this morning is to send a letter to all of the candidates for the Office of the President. I will just read a couple of small parts of that which might be of interest to you. Of course we explained who we are. One of the things that we say is our duty is to be thorough and impartial. In discharging our mandate we intend to carefully balance the right of the complainants to have a fair hearing against the clear public interests and ensuring that the election process is not unduly delayed.
Asylum know there was a deadline of 6pm yesterday and we decided that it was in the interest of the process to extend this. I will read this: “We’ve decided to allow candidates an additional 48 hours to 18:00 hours on the 14th of October to lodge complaints that raise issues that would not delay the count”. And we also indicate there will be no further extensions.
The second thing we wanted to tell you about was that as of 6pm last night, we had received, or presidential candidates had lodged, to use the exact wording, 43 complaints. What we have done is we have reviewed 37 of them looking as a priority, at whether, in any case, ballot boxes should be isolated. And we intend to finalize the remaining six as soon as possible after the press conference.
Around 12 o’clock today we sent a letter of recommendation to the JEMB based on the 37 complaints that we had reviewed and we recommended isolation of ballot boxes in ten centers and 11 stations. Now it is important to note that in our recommendation we state explicitly that our recommendation to isolate the ballot box does not necessarily mean that irregularities took place. It does mean that in reviewing these complaints expeditiously it was evident that further investigation was required in those locations.
Maybe we will leave it at that and open the floor to some questions.
Questions and Answers
Question: Could you tell us when you will actually give the green light for the actual counting of the ballots to start?
Craig Jennens: I would expect very quickly after the end of this press conference we can review the remaining six complaints to make this preliminary recommendation as to whether the ballot boxes in any location should be isolated.
Staffa Darnel: I just want to clarify one thing here; it is not demanded of the panel to give the green light to go ahead with the counting. Wearer here to recommend certain polling stations that need to be isolated. There is also a screening mechanism that is built-in within the normal structure of the JEMB which is also making an assessment of whether actions should be taken. So we only gave recommendations on polling stations that should be isolated, not given the green light. That’s up to the JEMB.
Question: Could you tell us more about how you do this assessment, as to which ballots should be removed because I don’t understand how you can tell if the vote has been fraudulently cast or not. And secondly, given that there has been some disagreement of the appointment of the third candidate, do you really feel that you are entirely independent and able to give judgment on this process or is this really just a face saving exercise?
Craig Jennens: What we are doing initially is reviewing the complaint and seeing on its face whether it would merit further investigation. Another words, is it an allegation that actually is of a wrongdoing, is it something that would eventually lead to ballots being invalidated? So we look at that first. Does it require further investigation? If it does merit further investigation then we are simply saying to the JEMB hold off on mixing of that ballot box until such time as we can look at it further. We are not saying necessarily that there will be irregularities, but it is best not to mix it and begin the count on that particular ballot box. On the second part, obviously neither Staffa nor I are intending to be window dressing. In taking this position we are both here as individuals not representing any organization and our report, as you know, will be made public. We also have full assurances from UNAMA and the JEMB that we can investigate allegations of wrong doing against them and we intend to follow that mandate if it is necessary.
Staffa Darnel: What is leading us, when it comes to our investigation, is not UNAMA or the JEMB. It is actually the complaints that have been lodged by the presidential candidates. That includes allegations about wrongdoing about ad hoc JEMB staff in a certain polling station. We might investigate that. If it is the accusation of ink that is of not sufficient quality, we will investigate that. If it is allegations about other things like ballot stuffing, we will act upon that.
Question: You have stated that you have received 43 complaints from presidential candidates and you have reviewed 37 of them. Can you give us details on these complaints?
Craig Jennens: We would not want to get into the specific details of the individual complaints. We would not want to compromise the investigation. However, what I can tell you is that there are a number of crosscutting issues that come up in these. One of course is the issue of the ink. Late openings and early closures was another one that appeared in a number of complaints. Running out of materials was another one that occurred more than once. Misbehavior of polling staff was another common thread.
Question: Where did these irregularities take place, Kabul or countrywide?
Staffa Darnel: For the time being we have received complaints from Kabul, Ghazni, Wardak, Lugar, and one has yet to be defined where the polling station is located. So four provinces are affected at this stage.
Question: You mentioned you’ve extended the time for another 48 hours buyout seem to be prepared to make a decision after the last six are reviewed this afternoon. Does that mean you won’t look at any further cases of flawed ballot boxes that you might receive in the next 48 hours? And if you don’t mind, I think you said ten ballot boxes are recommended to be isolated in ten centers. The numbers don’t seem to match?
Craig Jennens: On the second question, yes, ten centers and 11 stations. But what I think Staffa gave you was a list of the provinces where those centers and stations are located.
Staffa Darnel: I just want to say that one polling center could contain number of polling stations. So if we decide to isolate the center it could be a number of polling stations that have been affected.
Craig Jennens: Of course there is a Complaints and Adjudication mechanism that exits within the existing JEMB structure and there are various deadlines built into that. Our mandate is very specific. It is to deal with complaints lodged by presidential candidates concerning polling. Now this is an extraordinary process, it is in addition to the structure that already exists. It doesn’t mean that candidates can’t continue to complain about things that they might disagree with during the counting process throughout the rest of the election process until the results are announced. What we’re saying in the extension is that the original deadline of six o’clock last night should be respected. That’s part of the electoral process. We are prepared to give an additional 48 hours. But we are not prepared to accept additional complaints that are going to hold up the count which of course is in the public interest to continue.
Question: How many boxes are affected by your recommendation? My second questions I don’t understand how you can make recommendations without the third member of this commission?
Staffa Darnel: We have recommended to isolate 11 polling stations that we know specifically the name of the polling station that is a problem number of them are female polling stations. We do not know how many ballot boxes any of these polling stations contain because we don’t know if it was 200 voters turning up that day or 1000 voters. As you know ballot box could approximately hold between 600 to 700 ballots. There could be more than one ballot box per polling station. Then in terms of the ten polling centers that we are looking at it all depends once again how many polling stations each of these polling centers contain. Thetis the same story goes when it comes to ballot boxes actually being used per polling station in these ten centers. So right now we cannot definitely say how many there are. It is something we will find out during the Check-in process in these counting centers affected.
Craig Jennens: If this was only a look at some of these crosscutting issues, you know, was there a problem and why, were polling stations closed early in certain locations, issues like that, we probably could have waited. At least a short period until the other person arrives. However, we have this other task which is really time-sensitive, which is to look at the complaints quickly and determine where a ballot box should be taken out of the process pending further investigation. And that one really could not wait. Now again it is important to clarify that we haven’t made decision on these complaints where we’ve said, o.k., ballot boxes should be isolated. We get a report that says, “In this center there was this problem”. It may not even indicate a specific ballot box. So we say isolate, don’t mix those ballots and give us more time to investigate.
Question: You mentioned earlier that you received complaints from only 11 stations. It means that from 22,000 stations you only have 11. This makes your work too easy. However, do you have enough time, enough facilities to do this work?
Craig Jennens: It’s a good question. It is important to remember that these are not our final decisions. We had a certain fixed number of complaints and based on those fixed numbers we’ve gone through 37. We have recommended that for ten centers and 11 stations the ballots should not be mixed. It is not that we are saying that those are the only places that problems may have existed. On the second question, I don’t know if we have enough resources. We’ve had a lot of support since we came but the answer to that question is going to depend on the scope of the investigation, once we get all of the complaints and decide what it is that we have to look at more closely.
Staffa Darnel: When we went through these 37 complaints, we only went through them with one eye and that is looking for one purpose and that is to see if these boxes should be isolated or not. There are a number of issues in these complaints that we need to revisit. It doesn’t mean that we are discouraging the rest of the 37, putting them aside and done with. No, we will go back to them and look at them for issues that are not as time-sensitive as this isolation issue.
Question: Some of the irregularities that you have received from the candidates and if you find out that these irregularities are correct, will you re-start the election or not? What will happen to all the money that was spent on this election, where will you get this next money?
Craig Jennens: I don’t believe that it is our job to make its determination about whether there should be a second election. Our jobs to make recommendations. I want to make a distinction, because it’s important, there are two kinds of things we will be making recommendations on. One relates to these individual complaints which are kind of like, in this polling center this happened, in that station that happened. Wearer here as election experts. We are not here as private investigators. What is probably more important is to look at these process issues, the systems issues that many of you saw on Election Day and that we are seeing in many of the complaints, the ink issue, the question of closures and late openings. Those are the sorts of things that we want to spend a lot of time on. And that, in my opinion, is perhaps the most important part of our recommendations.
Question: The ballot boxes that have been isolated, after you will have gone over the last six complaints tonight, will it be too late for candidates to make any other complaints which may result in delaying the count and isolating all ballot boxes? And if that is the case will the count be in a position to go ahead for tomorrow?
Craig Jennens: Candidates have the opportunity to lodge complaints in the normal process for as long as the electoral law allows them too. With respect to our panel, we have given candidates until 6pm on Thursday to submit complaints to us and we will look at them so long as they don’t unnecessarily delay the count. I’ll clarify that. Only the complaints that arrived by 6pm yesterday will be complaints where we will recommend, or not, isolation of ballot boxes. But we will accept complaints up to that other deadline.
Thank you very much.