The winner of this Saturday’s presidential election in Afghanistan – the first in its history – can claim to genuinely represent the nation, despite the limitations surrounding the poll process, the senior United Nations envoy to the country said today.
Jean Arnault, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan, told reporters at a briefing in the capital Kabul that the imminent election, which features 18 candidates, “is a remarkable situation” given that the notorious Taliban regime only collapsed in late 2001.
He said it shows “unmistakably a trend, a process embraced by the population at-large – and candidates – that quickens the pace of the transition away from the rule of the gun.”
More than 10 million people, including at least four million women, have registered to vote on Saturday. At least 900,000 refugees still living in neighbouring Iran and Pakistan are also entitled to cast their ballot.
Mr. Arnault, who is head of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), acknowledged there have been shortcomings in the electoral process, as well as widespread unfamiliarity with democratic institutions and ongoing violence or threats of violence from extremist groups.
But, he added, “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.”
Mr. Arnault cited many factors, including the high rates of voter registration, especially from women; an election campaign that has covered the whole country and featured a more open public debate; the emergence of a pluralistic system offering voters an array of options; and the disarmament of numerous ex-fighters.
“And last, but certainly not least, the continued determination of the overwhelming majority of Afghans to brush aside difficulties and go to the polls.”
Mr. Arnault urged every candidate to respect the integrity of the polling and the election result and to reject all forms of violence and undue influence. He also called on security forces to do their utmost to ensure voters can cast their ballots safely.