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Shortage Of International Observers In Afghanistan ‘Handicapping’ The Process

Thijs Berman
Thijs Berman
KABUL -- Duch lawmaker Thijs Berman, head of the European Union's election observer mission in Afghanistan, hopes that the elections will be an opportunity for a peaceful and stable transfer of power in Afghanistan.

In an interview with Radio Free Afghanistan correspondent Asadullah Ludin, Berman said that violence, fraud or other types of interference in the elections will put the democratic rights of Afghans at risk.

RFE/RL: What will be the effect of the departure of the National Democratic Institute (NDI) and Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) after a recent attack on the Serena hotel in Kabul that killed one international election observer?

Thijs Berman: There are thousands of Afghan citizens who are observers. There are observers from the contesting candidates and organizations such as the Free and Fair Election Forum of Afghanistan (FEFA). They are very important for watching over what happens on election day at the polling stations and as the votes are counted.

Our role is to analyze the whole elections process, from candidates declaring themselves, to the selection of candidates, to the very end of the publication of the results. We will take into account all aspects of these elections -- the legal aspects, the role of the media, the role of the authorities -- everything.

It is a pity that the NDI and OSCE are not here, because they have excellent professional observers. Their absence is handicapping the observation process.

RFE/RL: Do you think that the upcoming election in Afghanistan will be free, fair and transparent?

Berman: We do not use these terms of free and transparent. We watch the whole process. As the chief election observer and a politician, I hope that Afghan citizens will be able to cast their votes freely and independently and that they can choose their leadership, because it is their universal human right.

RFE/RL: How do you view the prevailing insecurity in parts of the country? Will it hamper the electoral process?

Berman: Everybody knows that there are parts of Afghanistan where it will be difficult to vote. What I hope is that for the largest possible part of the country the vote will be credible. The vote will have an outcome that is accepted by voters [and] by the candidates, whether they lose or win. I hope that these elections will be an opportunity for a peaceful and stable transfer of power from one president to the next.

RFE/RL: If the presidential election is pushed into a second round because none of the candidates win a majority, will you stay to observe the second round?

Berman: The European Union election assessment team will stay for the first round. If there is a second round, we will stay for the second round. We will stay until after the results are published.

RFE/RL: What message do you read in the attacks on election workers, particularly those that targeted the Afghan election commission offices?

Berman: Any violence or threat or fraud or other interference in the normal democratic rights of Afghan citizens puts Afghan citizens at risk. If Afghanistan wants to have a stable, peaceful future, the only thing that matters today is having orderly, calm elections. Those engaged in violence and fraud apparently do not want these kinds of elections. But citizens have the right to choose their leadership in freedom and without fear.