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Afghanistan's First Democratic Presidential Election Historic and Credible Step Forward

October 9, 2004

Kabul, Afghanistan – A 13-member bipartisan delegation comprised of election experts who have observed multiple elections in 24 countries around the world today found Afghanistan's first democratic presidential election to be an historic and credible step forward in the country's march to democracy.

In order for this march to continue, winners and losers alike must play responsible roles. While the winner has a responsibility to the people to govern well, the losers must direct their complaints through the appropriate legal channels. Although the delegation witnessed technical difficulties, the delegation did not see or hear evidence that would call into question the legitimacy of the overall election process.

Based on their broad experience, the delegates, sponsored by the International Republican Institute, were encouraged by Afghans' desire to participate in this historic event. The collective experience of the delegates includes election observation in Russia, Ukraine, Cambodia, Belarus, Mongolia, Yemen, West Bank/Gaza, Bulgaria, Hungary, Albania, Romania, Dominican Republic, Mozambique, Liberia, Indonesia, Nigeria, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Azerbaijan, the Solomon Islands, Qatar, Kosovo, Vanuatu, and Kuwait.

Prior to the voting, the delegation met with representatives of the United Nations Assistance Mission to Afghanistan (UNAMA), the Joint Electoral Management Body (JEMB), a number of candidates for the presidency including President Karzai, and women activists and journalists.

The delegation's observation in Kabul city and surrounding areas did not allow it to make a final determination as to the conduct of the election in other parts of the country. However, its extensive visits to more than 70 polling stations demonstrated that Afghan women and men were determined to vote and that Afghan election workers were intent on overseeing a transparent, well-run process. The delegation observed long lines of Afghans, in some instances more than
100 persons, waiting in orderly lines to cast their votes.

The delegates noted that for an inaugural presidential election, it was well-administered despite some technical difficulties. For example, problems with the indelible ink resulted in several polling sites closing for up to two hours. Yet it also is important to note that the election workers at the polling sites knew to contact the JEMB to address the problem. Delegates witnessed lines of up to 150 Afghans waiting patiently until voting resumed and they cast their ballots.

Delegates did see instances where a small number of individuals attempted to use altered or falsified registration cards or cards other than their own. However, election supervisors and workers were diligent in preventing these persons from voting.

Especially notable was the evident determination of Afghan women to cast their votes. Delegates observed the enthusiastic turnout of women throughout Kabul. In several polling sites, delegates were told by women how seriously they took their responsibility to vote. It is particularly heartening to the delegation to have been able to witness Afghan women taking an active role in politics following years of oppression by the Taliban. One woman, Dr. Massouda Jalal, stepped forward as a presidential candidate, while there were three women presented as vice presidential candidates.

The delegation also saw enthusiastic oversight of polling sites by domestic observers and candidate agents, as well as international observers.

The context for today's election

The apparently successful electoral exercise the delegation witnessed to this point is a further step in a continuing series of accomplishments Afghanistan has realized since the fall of the Taliban. The Bonn Agreement reflected a consensus of Afghan interests and framed a process that has guided the political process to this point. The Emergency Loya Jirga created an Interim Government and launched the process of broadening Afghans' participation in determining their country's future. The Constitutional Loya Jirga approved the democratic Constitution that now enshrines the rights of all Afghan citizens, including its women.

The run-up to today's election has confirmed that this democratization process enjoys broad popular support. The international community has seen this in the massive participation of Afghans in voter registration, particularly by women (41 percent of whom registered to vote); 18 presidential candidates representing a broad range of Afghan society and political views; a presidential campaign that took on a national character with candidates campaigning in regions other than their own; and the participation of the electorate in political rallies. Candidates were also provided free access to radio and television and the electorate participated in open public debate. As UNAMA observed, the pre-election period showed "the continued determination of the overwhelming majority of Afghans to brush aside difficulties and go to the polls."

Future support

Whatever the outcome of this election, the clear winners are the Afghan people; the losers are the Taliban and those others who have historically undermined progress and unity in this country.

Enemies of democracy in Afghanistan tried to subvert this process and it is now clear that they failed. The future holds many challenges, and the Afghan people have high expectations for democracy. They will expect their government to provide security, economic development, and counter narcotics efforts, among others. In order for Afghanistan to consolidate the gains that this election represents, it will be vital for the international community to recommit itself to Afghanistan.