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UN Chief Learns 'Valuable, Painful' Lessons From Afghan Vote

By Margaret Besheer
United Nations
20 October 2009

The U.N. secretary-general says having learned "valuable and painful" lessons from the widespread fraud that plagued the first round of Afghanistan's presidential elections, the United Nations would do its best to assist the Afghan people in having a credible and free second round. But Ban Ki-moon warned that it will be a "huge challenge" to hold the runoff on November 7.

Mr. Ban welcomed President Hamid Karzai's announcement Tuesday that he would accept a runoff with his closest rival, Abdullah Abdullah, after the U.N.-backed audit of the August 20 vote found nearly a quarter of all votes were fraudulent and had to be thrown out.

"I am very much pleased that Afghan leadership, President Karzai, has agreed to respect the result of this Independent Election Commission, as well as Electoral Complaint Commission, as has been agreed before and in accordance with the constitutional process," he said.

Mr. Karzai originally received some 54 percent of the votes cast. But the U.N.-backed Electoral Complaints Commission examined more than 2,500 allegations of fraud - including phantom polling stations, ballot-stuffing and police intimidation - and declared a third of Mr. Karzai's ballots invalid, reversing his outright victory.

The election results were further complicated by infighting among U.N. representatives in Afghanistan. The chief of the U.N. mission there, Kai Eide, did not acknowledge that there was "widespread fraud" until recently. But his deputy, Peter Galbraith, raised the allegation sooner, and was dismissed from his post by the secretary-general.

Mr. Ban said there is a "huge challenge" in conducting a runoff election only 18 days from now. He said the United Nations would provide all the necessary administrative, technical and logistical support to the Afghans, as it did for the first round, and would work with the Electoral Complaints Commission and the Independent Election Commission to make the second round transparent and credible.

"But having learned lessons from the first elections that there was widespread fraud, irregularities and fraudulence, we will try our best in close coordination with Afghan leadership and Afghan institutions and other international major partners to make this election as fair and free of fraudulence," said the U.N. chief.

He added that the second round must not be a repeat of the first.

In Afghanistan, Mr. Ban's special representative, Kai Eide, told reporters that his approach to the elections has always been one of respect for the Afghan constitution and the other institutions that were put in place to move the election process forward. He said those institutions functioned as they should and that is what has led to the runoff vote.

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