Press Briefing by Manuel de Almeida e Silva
Spokesman for the Special Representative of the Secretary-General and by United Nations Agencies in Afghanistan
Thesis our first briefing at the Media and Results Centre. During the Election Day there will be briefings, certainly more than once away, we estimate at least three, maybe more. We would like to be able to provide you with an account of what is going on throughout the country. It will be done by the JEMB [Joint Electoral Management Body] spokesman and by myself and of course on issues related to security. Two people that do not need introduction – Ken Mackillop from ISAF and Scott Nelson from the Coalition – will be available if need be, for any information specific to security.
- Out-of-Country Registration in Pakistan reaches 740,000
Let me begin with out-of-country registration of Afghans in Pakistan- 740,000 Afghans have registered in Pakistan to vote on Saturday the 9th of October. They registered in some 1,657 registration sites, operating in 620 locations in the North West Frontier Province, Baluchistan and Islamabad.
The gender breakdown is – 73% men and 27% women. They registered during four days. Those of you who have been following this story will remember that the original plan was for registration to take three days, but given the demand it was extended for another day, fora fourth day. There were no security incidents during those four days. Those who registered will be voting on Saturday in the same locations where they registered. On Tuesday, a one-day exhibition and objection process also took place under the supervision of the registration staff. The list of the registrants was made available for inspection for any one objecting to people who had been registered, but who are not believed to be eligible to participate as voters on the elections. Voter registration and voting in Pakistan and voting in Iran is being organized and implemented by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) on behalf of the Joint Electoral Management Body and UNAMA. Both exercises in both countries have the support of the governments in Pakistan and Iran.
- Electoral campaign closes
The JEMB [Joint Electoral Management Body] has announced that the campaign period closed this morning at 7 o’clock. The 48 hours between the end of the election campaign period and the start of voting on the 9th of October will give voters a chance to consider the candidates proposals and decide whom to vote for without the confusion caused by competing messages of candidates during this last two days before the actual poll. During these two days and nights, any kind of electoral campaigning including public gatherings, distribution of printed campaign material or media appearances by candidates is prohibited. The JEMB in a statement that they issued on the 5th of October congratulated candidates and political parties that have conducted their campaigns peacefully and invited registered voters to take this historical opportunity to select their leader for the next five years.
- Arnault: conditions adequate for Afghans to express their will at polls
Yesterday the Special Representative of the Secretary General for Afghanistan, Jean Arnault held a press conference where he shared his views on the conditions for the poll on the 9th of October.
In his statement he said that the United Nations has assisted the electoral process in the spirit of the Bonn agreement, which provides that the 2004 elections should not be a formal perfunctory exercise, but lead to the fully representative government that the Afghan people expect. We have therefore, he said, “focused not only on the electoral operations but on the goal of free and fair elections reiterated in Berlin six months ago. In pursuit of this goal many initiatives were taken in recent months like expanding domestic and international security presence throughout the country, disarming and reintegrating militia, registering political parties that have cut their links with armed militia, strengthening protection for journalists, establishing a progressive regulatory framework forth election, and creating a capacity to verify the effective exercises of political rights.”
Innis view, it is now the time, as the campaign closes, to take stock of the conditions for voting. That was done having in mind the shortcomings and difficulties identified in the three reports by the Human Rights Commission and UNAMA on political rights and also reports by other institutions. He stated, “It is therefore, with full knowledge of the difficulties that surround this exercise that we deem the degree of freedom and fairness adequate to allow the will of the Afghan people as a whole to translate at the polls, and the next president of Afghanistan to claim to represent the nation.”
He said that while conditions exist for a good election, it is incumbent upon us all to make polling day as free, fair and safe as possible. He called on key actors in this process to take actions between now and the day of polling. He called on the candidates to abide strictly by the law, reject any form of violence and undue influence, respectfully the integrity of the polling, and the result of the election. He urged public officials and security personnel to protect and not to interfere in the electoral process. He called upon the media to continue to inform the public about the secrecy of the vote, the role of observers and the other safeguards that protect the rights of the voters to cast their ballot free of intimidation.
In addition to making his appeal to candidates, public officials and media, he encouraged national and international observers to expand their presence far and wide, and called upon security forces to-do everything they can to ensure that voters are nowhere disenfranchised by the violence or threat of violence of extremists.
The full text of the statement is available at the back of the room.
- Election Observers and Monitors
I would like to give you an update of where we stand with the numbers of observers, monitors, support missions, domestic and international.
From the domestic side as of yesterday the numbers are as follows – almost 5000 independent domestic observers, and some 70,000 political party agents, and candidates’ representatives.
From the international side, as of yesterday, there were almost 500 observers, special guests, and support mission personnel. Some 100 of them will be observing elections in Iran and Pakistan.
At the end of the briefing we have special guests, members of the Japanese delegation of international observers.
- US $76 million for elections
Also, to update you as you prepare your stories on these elections, I would like to tell where we stand on funding for this process. Asif yesterday UNDP [United Nations Development Programme], that asylum know, manages the funding part among other areas of activities had received in the bank as of yesterday, $76 million dollars. These contributions came from the US, the UK, Netherlands, Finland, Canada, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Japan, Germany, the European Commission, Italy, Switzerland, and Ireland.
- Electoral Preparations
Asif this morning everything is moving according to plan. We have the personnel recruited to staff the 25,000 or so polling stations, they are being trained by the 5000 voter supervisors throughout the country. The polling materials have all been distributed tithe provinces, to the provincial capitals, and they are these days going from the provincial capitals to the voting centers. In fact, the Electoral Secretariat informs us that the polling materials that are in the Kabul warehouse, the last of the packages will be leaving the warehouse by 12 o’clock today, so if any of nourish to rush from here to go there to get a glimpse of it, you can talk to my colleague Gary Holus who is standing at the back. He can give you directions on whom to contact in order to ensure that arrangements are made for those of you who want to benefit from this photo-op.
For those of you who missed our briefings, just some numbers that might be interesting for you. Some 100,000 voting screens as well as 75,000 metal chairs and tables have been produced to be used in the 25,000 or so voting stations. All of this material has been produced in Afghanistan. The voting screens do not all look the same, because they have been produced locally, so they have been produced with the materials that are more easily available in the different regions. If I remember well that includes metal, cardboard and wood.
These 120,000 or so personnel, who will be working on the day of elections and a few days before and after, will represent an injection of some 6.1 million dollars into their local communities as collectively that is what they will be paid.
I think these are some of the numbers I could put together without repeating too much what we already said, but some of you arrived recently I thought it could be useful.
- Last presentation of the “Good Choice” Mobile Thea replay
I would like to inform you that later this afternoon at 4 o’clock, the Foundation for Cultural and Civil Society in Kabul will be hosting special elections cultural Programme. The first, entitled, “Steps to Independence: Afghanistan 1992-2004.” It is a photo exhibit by photographer Edward Gorazde, which documents the changes in Afghanistan during the last 12 years.
The other cultural event begins at 5 o’clock, and it is the final theatre performance of the “Good Choice – Elections Awareness Theatre.” One of the many tools used by our civic education colleagues from the Electoral Secretariat was mobile theatre and this play was one of the plays that went around the country. There last performance will be at 5 o’clock today at the Foundation for Cultural and Civil Society. I am also told that refreshments light snacks will be served.
- 20,000 Disarmed Under DDR Process
Noon DDR [Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration], which is an issue that you are always very much interested in, and has big impact on the environment for elections. Yesterday, Wednesday, the Afghanistan’s New Beginnings Program (ANBP) and the MOD(Ministry of Defense), in their effort to implement the disarmament Programme in the country, have gone beyond 20,000 men disarmed, more specifically, some 20,300 men from the regions of Herat, Kandahar, Kabul, Parwan, Bamyan, Jalalabad, Gardez, Kunduz, and Mazar have been disarmed.
To date as a result of this disarmament program 14,920 weapons have been collected and this includes sniper rifles, AK-47s, rocket-propelled grenade launchers and cannons. Of these over 20,000 men, almost16, 500 have begun their reintegration Programme, which helps them return to civilian life. 44 percent of them have chosen the agricultural option while 38 percent have gone for vocational training in areas like metal work, carpentry or tailoring. Eight percent chose business option, which offers loans to start up small businesses, and six percent chose training in de-mining activities. The remainder chose to train to become teachers or become part of contracting teams or join the Afghan National Army or the Afghan National Police.
Unnoticed that I said – 20,000 or so men, in fact MOD and ANBP have just disarmed the first woman, and that is a 35 year old woman called Bubany Khair Andesh. She was an officer in the regiment 234 herein Kabul. This lady has chosen small businesses as an option for reintegration. She plans to open a store in Kabul to sell women’s accessories and make-up.
- Heavy Weapons Collections under DDR
Still on DDR and related activities, let me tell you the Afghanistan’s New Beginnings Program (ANBP) together with ISAF has now collected and secured almost 65 percent, or 2,780 – of the working or repairable heavy weapons known to exist in the country. As a result of this heavy weapons collections exercise, the regions of Jalalabad, Gardened Kabul are now free of all working or repairable heavy weapons.
For those of you who have missed the earlier statistics, the inventory done throughout the country on heavy weapons shows that 5,800 heavy weapons exist in the country. Of these 2,277 were deemed operational-1,960 were identified as repairable and 1,501 were characterized as unusable.
- FAO and Ministry of Agriculture save crops worth US $114 million
My last note is a request from our colleagues from the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO). It is not something that people covering elections will probably interested in. However, it is a very important issue for this country, and that is – locust. The country has had infestations of locust and what as a result of the actions of Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Husbandry and the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), some 200,000 hectares in the provinces of Balkh, Baghlan, Kunduz, Namangan and Takhar were treated.
An estimated 500,000 tons of wheat were saved. The total value of crops saved is estimated at $ 114 million. The FAO colleagues say that this calculation does not consider the effect of migrating locusts would have had on wheat production in neighboring provinces. Had the locust outbreak gone unchecked, the region would have required food aid and that is not the case.
Thesis all I had for you this morning. Are there any questions before we move to our guests?
Question: Sir, you said that candidates are prohibited from media appearances, does this mean they can’t even address a press conference or give an interview?
Spokesman: That means they cannot do that, no media appearance.
Question: Yesterday Galliano said that he was stepping down and all votes should be transferred to President Karzai, is that possible? For as I understood those vote cannot be transferred to President Karzai?
Spokesman: You are talking about candidates who withdrew in favored another. Of course they can do it, it is their right to do so. But it is too late to change the ballot papers. It is upon [the candidates] to inform their followers if they want their votes Togo to whomever they are supporting, to vote for that person. According to procedures, the votes will go to whomever the voter marks on the ballot paper. The votes are not transferred to the candidate being supported by another candidate.
Question: How many people have been registered in Iran?
Spokesman: In Iran there is no registration, because the government of Iran with UNHCR registered the refugees last year, so they here identification papers. There is therefore, no need for registrations there was the need in Afghanistan and Pakistan, because their ID papers already indicate that they are Afghans and what their age is, which is the basic requirement for you to be able to vote.
Question: How many refugees are estimated to be eligible to vote in Iran?
Spokesman: Between 600,000 and 800,000
Question: From these 70,000 representatives of political parties and candidates, do all of the candidates and political parties have the same number or equal number of representatives or are they different? If there is a difference, which parties and which candidates have more representatives?
Spokesman: I do not know the answer to your question. I do not know how it breaks down per candidate or per political party, but what I can tell you is that of the 70,000; 22,000 are from political parties and 48,000 are representatives of candidates. I think it is fair to assume that given the level of support that different candidates or different political parties have, that probably you cannot break it down evenly, I think that is a fair assumption. Now how many agents each party or how many representatives each candidate has? I don’t know, maybe we can try and find that for you for the briefing tomorrow. The important thing is, that the polling staff, the chair of each polling station and each polling Centre all have been undergoing training. Their training includes how to deal with political party agents and candidates’ representatives and to ensure proper forms of behavior – no intimidation, no campaigning to take place and that these agents follow the guidelines and rules of the Joint Electoral Management Body [JEMB].
Question: Is there a code of conduct or something that underlies the violations during the voting day and if any violation takes place, will it only be reported 24 hours after the elections and will any action be taken against the violator?
Spokesman: There is a regulation by the JEMB on offences during the electoral process and they are quite detailed and quite extensive. You can go to their website at www.elections-afghanistan.org.af[to look at the regulation.]
Question: Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), says Afghanistan election cannot meet international standards. In your point of view, why do they claim such a thing and which international standards cannot be met?
Spokesman: I am not the spokesperson for the OSCE.I should refer you to them for them to brief you in more detail regarding their own statement. We at the UN, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Afghanistan] yesterday issued a statement not on the elections themselves, but on the conditions for the elections and that is what we believe is very important from our perspective. Given the work done [there has been] massive voter popular participation in voter registration in particular by women. We are seeing the beginning of a pluralistic system that offers voters a gamut of candidates representing different political options. The campaign effort, despite security concerns and limitations has covered forth first time, the country as a whole, cutting across regions and ethnic lines also, the emergence of a more open public debate, where the media, the Afghan media has played a very important role. The ongoing disarmament process, which I mentioned today, they have just reached the mark of going beyond 20000 people [please refer to the opening statement], and a very well-coordinated security plan that brings together international forces and what we did not have before, a more robust, more national Afghan security force. All this, along with the continued determination of the overwhelming majority of Afghans to brush aside difficulties and go the polls gives us this view; UN’s view that the degree of freedom and fairness is adequate to allow the will of the Afghan people as awhile to translate at the polls.
Question: There are some concerns and challenges like selling of voting cards some negative competitions between the candidates and security concerns, all these are increasing concerns and what I your observation?
Spokesman: These are concerns. There are three reports on political rights that UNAMA has issued along with the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, which highlight all of these concerns. But we believe alongside with these concerns, there are measures that have been taken, that are being taken, that create the conditions for people to go to the polls. In fact this is the sense we have throughout the country, as we talk with our colleagues who work in the different regions, and we ask them what the mood around the country is. What we hear is this – acknowledgement of difficulties, concern over security, which we think is good, because it is a reality of the country, security is a problem, but there is work that has been done, a well-coordinated security plan that we hope will give people confidence to go cast their ballots on Saturday.
Question: A clarification on my earlier question. The candidates can issue a press statement or not, because for example, if a candidate wants to announce his retirement even today or tomorrow how would he do it?
Spokesman: Probably he would have to get advice form the JEMB, to make sure he does not break any of the regulations. This is a very specific situation, which, I think requires interpretation from the JEMB and I don’t know the answer.
Question: My next question is to the spokesman of the ISAF coalition. Has ISAF recovered big caches, big arms or explosives during the last 24 hours or any preventative arrests for this election?
Coalition Spokesman: I just have a couple of things on caches on the last 24 hours. We have found a cache in Ghazni, consisting of seven motor-rounds, near the district center in Qarabagh; that is about all we have seen for caches. What we have also seen on the coalition side is a relatively quiet security situation. We still have incidents happening across country, the south and southeastern particular, but relatively routine. Nothing significant that we can report right now, but we as always expect threats, we still have aggressive operations ongoing with ANA [Afghan National Army] with the Ministry of the Interior, Ministry of Defense, ISAF forces, and we think we have a very good coordinated plan for security. These are the only major incidents we have, everything else is relatively routine for what Afghanistan is.
Spokesman: Before we close, if I can invite Paul Anderson [Media Centre Manager], for those of you who have not met him, he is the one manta keep this whole thing together. I think he has an announcement that he wishes to make.
Media Centre Manager: Thank you Manuel, I’d like to welcome all of you here. For those taking hours in getting your accreditation, I apologize for the delay. For those of you who got it in ten minutes, you just turned up at the right time. More seriously, we see the Centre here as a work area for the media and to that end we have got a lot of computers around the building, they have all got very good internet access, you are welcome to spend as many hours during the day and during the night to use this as a work area.
At the back is a handout, I’ve also put up the latest paper which outlines the activities over the next couple of days and some information on the computer technology in the building. To my rear is a large rectangular building. In there, there are a lot of computer ports where you are very welcome to hook up your own laptops and work there in a more private surrounding.
Now we have connected PCs in this auditorium and in the room to our rear and right. I would ask no-one to unplug any of those [LAN line], if you unplug one of those and put your laptop in you won’t be very popular. We want to make sure both LANs are up and running and you can get results when you want them. Any of the networks that want to install more equipment later on today come and seemed and I’ll make sure you have access. Just generally we are here to help you, so please come and ask. I sit at the back corner and we will try very hard to help you. This is your place and we welcome you to it.