Senior UN officials deny accusations of favouritism in Afghan presidential polls


United Nations : The top United Nations envoy to Afghanistan has only ever sided with electoral institutions in the country’s recent presidential ballot, and never with any of the candidates, UN officials said Wednesday as they refuted allegations of bias.

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The Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) and Independent Election Commission (IEC), both established under Afghan law, began an audit of the disputed election results on Monday, with all political parties monitoring the process, including representatives of the two main presidential candidates.

But the former UN Deputy Special Representative for Afghanistan, Peter Galbraith, has in recent days accused his erstwhile boss – the Secretary-General’s Special Representative Kai Eide – of favouring incumbent Afghan President Hamid Karzai in the run-up to and after the country’s Aug 20 election by allowing voting irregularities to occur.

“What Kai Eide did, what he was supposed to do and what he did very faithfully, is side with the institutions,” a Director of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO), Wolfgang Weisbrod-Weber, told reporters in New York.

“He was always keen and he still is keen to let the institutions work out the process,” said Mr. Weisbrod-Weber, who runs the Asia and Middle East Division of DPKO.

In the preparations for the election and in the aftermath, Mr. Eide has been dedicated to strengthening the ECC and IEC – especially regarding the rules and regulations governing the ballot – to make it as credible as possible, said Mr. Weisbrod-Weber.

“This is a line that we very much support… to trust the institutions, to trust the mechanisms that were in place to detect fraud, [and] to trust the [audit] process. We’ll see where the chips fall,” he said.

Only Afghan participants in the election – candidates, voters and observers – can file a complaint with the ECC, and they must be accompanied by evidence, said Craig Jenness, the Director of the Electoral Assistance Division of the UN Department of Political Affairs (DPA).

Mr. Jenness said that in addition to the audit that got under way on Monday, the ECC is investigating some 2,500 complaints submitted by candidates. In its deliberations the ECC is also considering information from the UN Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) collected by its staff in interviews at polling stations over a five-day period during the election.

UNAMA reported Wednesday that just over 100 of the 358 suspicious ballot boxes remain to be examined by the IEC and ECC’s auditing process. The remaining boxes are slated to be inspected on Thursday.

“The audit process is making good progress,” IEC spokesperson Noor Mohammad Noor told UNAMA. “If all goes well, 84 of the additional boxes will arrive by the end of today (Wednesday).”

A 10-member team representing Abdullah Abdullah, Mr. Karzai’s main presidential rival, is closely monitoring the process. The head of the delegation, Ahmad Zia Kechkenni, told UNAMA that the campaign is “satisfied with the transparency of the level of random sampling. We have some minor concerns about access to information… and we have told the IEC about it.”

A representative of Mr. Karzai’s 10-member team observing proceedings said that the process was a “bit slow on the first day but things are speeding up.” Arsala Jamal added they also have some concerns over clerical errors and other issues, “which we hope the IEC and ECC will address.”

Assistant-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Edmond Mulet told reporters that Mr. Galbraith made “all sorts of assertions that were not true and that are completely out of bounds with our mandate in UNAMA regarding the election.”

Mr. Mulet added that Mr. Galbraith wanted to close 1,500 of the 6,900 polling stations in volatile regions, a measure that would disenfranchise a large number of potential voters. The Government decided to close down 500 of the stations.

He also proposed to annul the elections and set up a transitional government, said Mr. Mulet. “The fact that he was proposing this unconstitutional change and establishing a de facto government in Kabul was one of the elements that convinced us that he was not the right person to be in UNAMA at this point.”

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon recalled Mr. Galbraith from Afghanistan at the end of September, terminating his appointment with UNAMA.