UN envoy to Afghanistan says elections show the country starting to assume control

By Anita Snow, AP
Wednesday, September 29, 2010

UN says Afghan election a positive sign

UNITED NATIONS — Afghanistan’s ability to even hold recent legislative elections shows it is starting to take control of its own future, a U.N. special envoy said Wednesday as Security Council members took stock of the war-ravaged country’s most recent attempt at democracy.

The Sept. 18 parliamentary elections “mark an important step toward advancing Afghanistan’s political process and development, in particular the strengthening of its democratic institutions,” said Steffan de Mistura, U.N. special representative to Afghanistan.

“One must not forget that Afghanistan is still a country in conflict,” de Mistura said. “The fact that elections took place at all, not least in such close succession and during comparatively a more volatile period, is an accomplishment in itself.”

This month’s vote was the first since last year’s presidential election was almost derailed by widespread ballot-box stuffing and tally manipulation. That poll led many Western nations to question their support President Hamid Karzai’s government.

About 4.3 million ballots were cast in the latest election, or about one-fourth of the country’s 17 million registered voters. There were more than 2,500 candidates, including nearly 400 women, for 249 parliamentary seats. Results are expected Oct. 30.

Election day was marred by rocket attacks and bombings. De Mistura said the U.N. mission there recorded 32 civilian deaths and 95 injuries related to the vote.

So far, the parliamentary electoral process has shown “significant improvements” over the last year’s presidential vote, said De Mistura. While there are no early signs of massive or systemic fraud, “there were possibly widespread irregularities,” he added.

Afghan Foreign Minister Zalmal Rassoul called the elections “a major victory for democracy in Afghanistan.”

The acting head of the European Union delegation to the U.N., Pedro Serrano, told the council that it was “too early to make a full assessment of the polls” but praised “the thorough preparations which were largely ensured by Afghan institutions.”

He said the EU had a long-term commitment to Afghanistan, and during the 2011-13 period will increase its European Community humanitarian and development aid to 200 million euros annually. Serrano said EU members together are already giving Afghanistan nearly 1 billion euros annually.

U.S. Ambassador Susan E. Rice also welcomed the U.N. envoy’s report, calling the elections an “important, step toward a stronger, more stable Afghanistan.”

“These elections would not have been possible without the Afghan National Security Forces,” Rice said, noting that the U.S. is working to prepare Afghan security forces to take the lead on their nation’s own security by 2014.

She also applauded the “key role” that the Security Council’s al-Qaeda/Taliban Sanctions Committee has played in updating lists of Talibans or people with Taliban ties, removing 10 who had either died or laid down their guns, and adding three new names.

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