So, in the end, the hubbub surrounding UNAMA and Galbraith was all for naught. Yesterday, after quietly doing its job for monthe before, during, and after the election, the UN-led ECC invalidated 210 polling stations and triggered a run-off, and today Karzai accepted that run-off. The election was widely labeled as flawed, votes were thrown out through a careful and legitimate process led by the United Nations, and we start again. The only other thing we saw in this fracas was quite a bit of Mr. Galbraith in the news and, in my opinion, an unneeded destabilization of the election process. It’s a young country, the democracy is nascent and, at this point, deeply flawed, but, with international help, the just outcome is its way to being reached.
Full text of the Ban Ki-moon’s presser below, but I wanted to highlight the following answer. I think he really nails it:
Q: Mr Galbraith had said that polling stations in regions of the countr controlled by the Taliban, where it would be difficult to police them, shouldn’t have been opened in the first round. Do you anticipate, does the United Nations support having these so-called “phantom polling stations” remain open in the second round?
SG: …The idea suggested by Mr. Peter Galbraith was to reduce the number of polling stations just to prevent possible fraud. That was not acceptable, just to deprive the right of the Afghan people for voting was not acceptable in terms of the core values of democracy. Our principle was to open as many polling stations as possible, so that as many people could participate in their vote. That was the main difference. The question did not arise from whether there was fraud or not; we knew that there was fraud, we reported that there was fraud. Therefore, this time again, as much as security allows, as much as all logistical and all the situation on the ground allows, we will try to ensure that all the Afghan people should be able to express their own will freely without any intimidation or threat.
The full press conference:
I warmly welcome the statement today by H.E. President Hamid Karzai concerning the presidential elections in Afghanistan. He has made it clear that the constitutional process must be fully respected. This process is about the future of Afghanistan and the participation of the Afghan people in their future.
I commend President Karzai for the leadership he has displayed and for his commitment to ensuring full respect for Afghanistan’s Constitution and its democratic processes.
I also commend Dr. Abdullah Abdullah for his dignified approach to the campaign as well as to the difficult post-election period.
These elections were held under extremely difficult, even dangerous circumstances. The courage and patience demonstrated by the Afghan people and their leaders must be recognized and applauded. They have voted in the face of intimidation and insecurity.
This is the first time that Afghan institutions have conducted a Presidential election. These institutions – the Independent Election Commission and the Electoral Complaints Commission – have worked closely to ensure strict adherence to the Constitution and the Electoral Law of Afghanistan. The United Nations has supported the work of these institutions in their efforts to ensure that all valid votes cast in the elections of 20 August 2009 were taken into account and that the voice of the Afghan people was clearly heard.
The United Nations will do its utmost for the conduct of the second round of elections scheduled for 7 November 2009 in a free, fair, transparent and secure environment.
I wish, finally, to thank my Special Representative, Mr. Kai Eide, and the staff of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) for their tireless work in support of the legitimate Afghan institutions and in keeping the electoral process on track.
Thank you very much.
Q: Mr. Secretary-General, concerning this upcoming round on 7 November, will the UN role be the same? Will you adjust it in any way, give the United Nations a little bit of a different role, a different approach to this election, to ensure that it might be less fraudulent than the first round? And what is your degree of confidence that there will be a difference this time – that this one will be more honest?
SG: You can understand that there will be a huge challenge in conducting a second [round of] elections on 7 November. We have only 18 days left before 7 November. The United Nations will ensure to provide all necessary technical assistance as we have done in the first [round of[ elections, including working very closely with the Electoral Complaints Commission and Independent Election Commission, and also in close coordination with international partners, to make this election a most transparent and credible and secure manner. We will basically do similar functions there. But having learned lessons from the first elections [round], that there was widespread fraud and irregularities, we will try our best, in close coordination with the Afghan leadership and Afghan institutions, and other major international partners, to make this election as fair and free of fraud [as possible].
Q: Mr. Secretary-General, do you think the international forces should deploy more troops in Afghanistan? And in which time frame?
SG: This is what the countries who have been providing troops should decide. I understand that the United States Government is seriously considering the augmentation of forces to Afghanistan. I would respect any decisions by the United States Government. Military assistance would be one of the effective means and ways to assist and help the Afghan people in their very difficult efforts to make their country, first of all, politically stabilized in their fight against the Taliban and against terrorism. We should appreciate the noble sacrifices by many troop contributing countries, including the United States. Now, as some American Government officials have said, it would be very important for the Afghanistan Government to show that they are reliable, they are credible partners and they should have their own stability in a democratic process. After all, the United Nations has been very closely working together with all ISAF troop contributing countries, as well as other development assistance countries. We will continue to do that.
Q: Mr. Secretary-General, can you just tell me how you feel the United Nations has come out of it, after the last two months? Do you think that its credibility has been damaged, given that the man you dismissed turned out to be right about the extent of fraud?
SG: The United Nations, since the beginning of this first election [round], and right after the election, had been taking a leadership role, in close coordination with major international partners and together with the leadership of Afghanistan. Over the last few days, I have been actively discussing with international leaders, as well as with the Afghanistan leadership, including President Karzai, that all the processes should be carried out according to the Constitution of Afghanistan and in accordance with the electoral processes previously agreed on among the parties concerned. This effort has been much appreciated by the Afghanistan leadership and others in the international community. I am very much pleased that the Afghanistan leadership and President Karzai has agreed to respect the result of the Independent Election Commission as well as the Electoral Complaints Commission, that has been agreed before, and in accordance with the Constitutional process. The United Nations will continue to play such a role. The credibility of the United Nations has been there, will continue to be there.
Q: To prevent fraud, what will the United Nations do practically? Could you give me more explanations?
SG: First of all, there should be security assured, so that the voters will be able to express their will without any threat or difficulties. And there should be necessary logistical support provided by the United Nations and the major international players. This is what we are going to do. We have learned very valuable but painful lessons from the first election [round]. First of all, we will advise the Independent Election Commission not to re-recruit those officials who might have been involved in fraudulent electoral processes. And we will ensure to make all administrative and technical [measures] to ensure that this election will be carried out in a most fair and transparent manner. We must not repeat what they have done last time.
Q: Two follow-ups from the BBC question. Sir, would you have had an easier time organizing this had you had the entire United Nations reading statements about the fraud when [Peter] Galbraith did his? It was so obvious. And the run-off will probably be won be Karzai. Can you really make sure that the same fraudulent stuffing of the ballets is not going to be repeated?
SG: The important thing is that, even though, unfortunately, widespread fraud has taken place, the measures which we have put in place had worked. We detected the fraud, and we reported this fraud to the Security Council. Right after the first election [round], in my latest report to the Security Council, I reported to the members of the Security Council that there was fraud and my Special Representative, Kai Eide, also reported to the Security Council,. Now all these measures will be put in place again, so that the mechanisms and measures will continue to work and function properly, so that we will prevent any sort of fraudulent practices and irregularities.
Q: How much more effective, or how much of a difference would it have made, if the United Nations had been more effective at policing Afghanistan and itself for internal fraud and corruption in the years leading up to this?
SG: After all, this is an Afghan-led process. The United Nations and the international members have provided technical and logistical support and also advised them to ensure that these two independent electoral commissions – one is Afghan-led and the other is United Nations-backed – they worked closely, in harmony. That has, I think, worked out. We will try our best, as I said, to make this election as credible and transparent [as we can]; this is our commitment.
Q: Mr Galbraith had said that polling stations in regions of the country controlled by the Taliban, where it would be difficult to police them, shouldn’t have been opened in the first round. Do you anticipate, does the United Nations support having these so-called “phantom polling stations” remain open in the second round?
SG: These so-called “phantom polling stations” – I would like to make it clear that the principles and priorities of the United Nations in assisting the electoral process last time was to provide and to ensure that all Afghanistan’s people would be able to express their will by casting their votes. The idea suggested by Mr. Peter Galbraith was to reduce the number of polling stations just to prevent possible fraud. That was not acceptable, just to deprive the right of the Afghan people for voting was not acceptable in terms of the core values of democracy. Our principle was to open as many polling stations as possible, so that as many people could participate in their vote. That was the main difference. The question did not arise from whether there was fraud or not; we knew that there was fraud, we reported that there was fraud. Therefore, this time again, as much as security allows, as much as all logistical and all the situation on the ground allows, we will try to ensure that all the Afghan people should be able to express their own will freely without any intimidation or threat. Thank you very much.