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Cablegate: Planning for a Feasible, Affordable, Sustainable

VZCZCXRO2207
OO RUEHDBU RUEHIK RUEHPW RUEHYG
DE RUEHBUL #1581/01 1310959
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 110959Z MAY 07
FM AMEMBASSY KABUL
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 7977
INFO RUCNAFG/AFGHANISTAN COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEHZG/NATO EU COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RHEHAAA/NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUEKJCS/OSD WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RHMFIUU/HQ USCENTCOM MACDILL AFB FL PRIORITY
RHMFIUU/COMSOCCENT MACDILL AFB FL PRIORITY
RUCNDT/USMISSION USUN NEW YORK PRIORITY 4052

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 04 KABUL 001581

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

DOD FOR USDP EDELMAN
STATE FOR SCA/FO A/S BOUCHER AND SAS GASTRIGHT, SCA/A,
S/CRS, SCA/PB, S/CT, EUR/RPM
STATE PASS TO USAID FOR AID/ANE, AID/DCHA/DG
NSC PASS TO AHARRIMAN
OSD FOR SHIVERS
CG CJTF-76, POLAD, JICCENT

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREL PGOV PTER ASEC MARR AF
SUBJECT: PLANNING FOR A FEASIBLE, AFFORDABLE, SUSTAINABLE
ELECTION SYSTEM

REF: A. KABUL 1007
B. KABUL 1527

SUMMARY
-------

1. (SBU) The high cost and short-lived institutional benefit
of Afghanistan's milestone post-Taliban elections underscores
the importance of developing a feasible, affordable, and
sustainable plan for future elections. The May 1 JCMB
endorsed recommendations (drafted by the Embassy Governance
Policy Group for the UNAMA-chaired JCMB Technical Working
Group) calling for early passage of a new election law,
consideration of simplifying the electoral calendar,
increased support for the Independent Election Commission,
and a decision by August whether, based on the pilot project
underway, the proposed Civil and Voter Registry (CVR) meets
the "feasible, affordable, sustainable" criteria. Post is
working closely with UNAMA and effectively using the JCMB
process to ensure decisions are made that lead to an
Afghan-owned, Afghan-appropriate, and Afghan-sustainable
election system in time for the Presidential elections in
2009. END SUMMARY.

PAST LESSONS INFORM ELECTION PLANNING
-------------------------------------

2. (SBU) Afghanistan's previous elections, financed and run
largely by the international community, were a hugely
significant milestone. They were, administratively speaking,
a one-off exercise that contributed little to long-term local
capacity to conduct elections. They were also very
expensive. The combined costs of the 2004 Presidential and
2005 Parliamentary and Provincial Council elections was $332
million, including approximately $20 million in uncovered
costs. The USG initially contributed $100 million to the
UNDP project and recently announced our intention to
contribute an additional $4 million to bring the remaining
outstanding debt down to $7 million. As intended, this
recent contribution has been used by UNAMA as leverage to
urge other donors, including Japan, to make contributions to
finally clear the outstanding balance from the last
elections.

3. (SBU) This expenditure left behind few material or
institutional assets for future elections. The Presidential
decree, which provided the legal framework for the last
elections, must be replaced by an amended election law. The
voter registry was designed to work for the 2004 and 2005
elections but, depending on the new election law, will have
to be revised or completely redone for the next elections.
While the Independent Election Commission (IEC) performed
well in the last elections, it depended largely on temporary
international staff. It retained less than 40 percent of its
experienced Afghan staff when the IEC went through the Public
Administration Reform (PAR) process. Massive investment and
capacity building will be required if the IEC is to meet its
responsibilities for the upcoming and future elections.

JCMB Election Working Group Drives Progress
-------------------------------------------

4. (SBU) Recognizing the challenges involved in planning for
the next elections, the Embassy drafted a White Paper on the
need for early planning, which was presented to the Fourth
session of the Joint Coordination and Monitoring Board (JCMB)
in Berlin. This was the catalyst for the JCMB establishing
an Elections Working Group (EWG) to consider in greater depth
the issues raised in a paper. UNAMA convened the EWG on
March 15 in Kabul (ref A) and asked the Embassy to prepare a
new White Paper recommending steps to address the issues.
The EWG discussed the draft White Paper on April 10, and a

KABUL 00001581 002 OF 004


revised version was approved on April 25. The White Paper
was then submitted to the JCMB, where its key findings were
accepted on May 1 (ref B).

5. (SBU) The White Paper framed a JCMB decision that "Urgent
efforts, including by the Elections Working Group, are
required so that within the next five months, the electoral
cycle is simplified and rationalized, electoral system issues
resolved, financial resources secured, and appropriate legal
changes undertaken" (ref B). The JCMB White Paper calls for
three types of measures: reforming the legal framework;
building electoral capacity; and assessing the Civil and
Voter Registry (CVR) mandated in the Afghanistan Compact as a
feasible, affordable, and Afghan-sustainable vote
registration vehicle.

REFORMING THE LEGAL FRAMEWORK
-----------------------------

The Election Law:

6. (SBU) The JCMB White Paper flagged that, under the Afghan
constitution, the revised election law must be finalized a
year before the next elections, thus by March 2008. The
Ministry of Justice and the Cabinet are currently consulting
with parliamentary representatives as to which version of the
draft law prepared by the Independent Election Commission
(IEC) will be submitted to parliament. (NOTE: One version
calls for a mixed system, including some seats chosen by
Single Non-Transferable Voting (SNTV) system and other seats
chosen by Proportional Representation (PR) based on closed
lists. The other version would consist of only SNTV seats.
It is our understanding that the parliament will most likely
consider the mixed-system proposal. END NOTE.) Recognizing
that decisions on the electoral law belong to the Government
of Afghanistan, the JCMB is urging donors to press the
government to promptly adopt a feasible electoral system and
to encourage the IEC to develop an electoral timeline and to
identify priorities for action.

The Election Calendar:

7. (SBU) The JCMB White Paper also recommended considering
the possible rationalization of the electoral calendar to
provide for a more fiscally sustainable electoral cycle.
Concern with administrative and security costs lay behind
this recommendation, which has strong support from UNAMA and
ISAF. The paper points out that the election calendar based
on the Afghan Constitution requires 69 elections over the
next 30 years, excluding village elections. The IEC sent to
the Cabinet three proposals which would harmonize the 2009
Presidential and 2010 parliamentary elections. The first
would lengthen the Presidential and Provincial Council terms
to fall in line with the National Assembly election in Fall
2010. The second would shorten the National Assembly term to
correspond with the Presidential and PC elections in Spring
2009. The third would lengthen the Presidential term by six
months and shorten the National Assembly term by six months
to hold all three elections in mid to late 2009.

8. (SBU) The Ambassador intervened at the JCMB meeting on May
1 to highlight that, while the U.S. supported simplification
and appreciated the financial considerations behind the
proposal to merge elections, holding bi-elections had the
democratic benefit of forcing leaders to "check in" with the
voter more frequently. He said the U.S. could not support
the argument that the people of Afghanistan only deserve as
much democracy as they can afford. The U.S. is thus on
record as being interested in carefully reviewing any
proposal to merge elections not only from the point of view
of efficiency, but also of democracy.


KABUL 00001581 003 OF 004


9. (SBU) Any change in the election calendar would require a
change in the Afghan Constitution and thus depends on
agreement between President Karzai and the parliament.
Karzai has stated that he will not agree to lengthen his
mandated term. The parliament can be expected to resist
shortening its term. More fundamentally, opponents to the
proposal are arguing that a constitutional change will
require a Loya Jirga, which could open up the possibility of
much wider constitutional changes. President Karzai will not
agree to a Loya Jirga. While UNAMA continues to focus on the
issue of simplifying the election calendar, we share wide
skepticism that it will in fact happen and are prepared to
argue that there are better ways to save money.

BUILDING IEC CAPACITY
---------------------

10. (SBU) The IEC is the Afghan institution responsible for
the conduct of elections, including drafting of the law,
organizing the elections, and supporting voter education. It
faces the challenge of opening additional provincial offices
and training new staff. As noted in the JCMB White Paper, it
has so far established offices in 29 of the 34 provinces, but
some provincial governors have been slow to provide
facilities. Security concerns have prevented offices from
opening in several southern provinces. Staffing gaps and
lack of experience point to the need for training and
capacity building. The UNDP ELECT project is designed to
support building capacity of the IEC, but has so far received
only $2.4 million of the $4.9 million budgeted for the
project. The White Paper recommends that donors make this
project a priority and calls on the GoA to increase its
financial support to the IEC. USAID has a two-year, $7
million contract with IFES for IEC capacity building, and
supports additional elections capacity-building projects
through The Asia Foundation. USAID is also looking at
providing additional money to the UNDP ELECT program to
support training in the IEC provincial offices.

CIVIL AND VOTER REGISTRY (CVR)
------------------------------

11. (SBU) The Afghanistan Compact includes a benchmark for
the establishment of a combined Civil and Voter Registry
(CVB) by 2008. The rationale for a combined registry
reflects the assumption made in London that the two
registries are similar and that a combined list would result
in cost savings. UNDP is responsible for a pilot project to
test a relatively high-tech CVR model that depends on the IEC
working with the Ministry of Interior (which would develop a
civil registry) and the Ministry of Finance (to print
bio-metric national ID cards using either facial recognition
or iris scanning technology). Under the current proposal,
these cards would be required of all Afghans as the only form
of acceptable voter identification. Some experts assert that
such a system would be necessary to assign individual voters
to specific polling stations and protect against fraud.
Others highlight the costs of implementing such a system and
the challenges and costs of maintaining it.

12. (U) After several delays, the CVR pilot project in three
provinces is underway and is scheduled to be completed by
early August. The pilot will cost about $400,000. There is
widespread donor skepticism over the feasibility,
affordability, and sustainability of the CVR, as envisioned
by UNDP. The JCMB decided on May 1 that the pilot project
should be used to determine whether to continue to implement
the combined CVR project or to move to a simpler and less
expensive voter registration system. The assessment will be
made prior to the September 2007 JCMB meeting, and the
Elections Working Group will be considering alternative
models in the meantime. While this would require a

KABUL 00001581 004 OF 004


modification of the Compact benchmark, it is within the
JCMB,s authority to make such amendments.

13. (SBU) The Embassy was the prime mover behind the
decision to take a hard look at the CVR. We are convinced
that movement toward a simpler system will not only save
significant amounts of money (which could be redirected to
the IEC and especially voter education) but also produce a
registry which would be more easily sustained by the GOA over
time. A simple system that is well maintained and
implemented does far more to reinforce support for elections
than a complicated system that is expensive and difficult to
maintain and implement.

COMMENT
-------

14. (SBU) Working closely with UNAMA and using White Papers
to shape the debate has allowed us to guide the discussion on
elections preparations in the JCMB. There is, at present,
broad donor consensus on the need to support a feasible,
affordable, and Afghanistan appropriate system. The Embassy
will continue to work with the IEC and Afghan Government to
move this agenda forward, as well as with other donors in
Kabul to coordinate assistance. END COMMENT.

WOOD

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