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NZDF helps Afghanistan polling process

21 October 2004

NZDF helps Afghanistan polling process

New Zealand Defence Force personnel in Afghanistan have been commended for their role in facilitating a successful turnout of voters in Bamyan during the recent presidential elections.

The 94-strong team of New Zealanders turned out in force in the days before the election to reassure local residents they could vote freely and in safety.

Based in Bamyan, the NZDF Provincial Reconstruction Team (NZPRT) was “very well received” by the locals, according to the US department of State representative in the area, Ms Carmela Conroy. She said the PRT provided a reassuring presence, and the patrols, which canvassed most of the province, were appreciated by the local population.

The election results are to be formally announced on October 28. If no single candidate gets more than 50 percent of the votes outright there will be a run-off election between the top two candidates. The presidential inauguration is planned for the end of November, but the parliamentary process however remains unchanged until April next year. The provincial and parliamentary elections are to be held then, and the results of those elections will determine members of parliament and provincial governors.

The NZPRT’s senior national officer, Colonel Mick Alexander, said there was a high voter turnout in the Bamyan area, “despite waking up to a four and a half inch drop of snow.”

“The locals saw the snow as good luck for the elections – the first that have been held for more than 30 years– describing it as a “blessing from Allah”. Many people in the central highlands had to travel substantial distances by foot or on donkey, with some walking up to three hours to vote,” he said.

Voters in the southern district of Panjaw-Waras in Bamyan turned up to polling stations as early as 3am to vote. The New Zealanders provided a security presence in the province to allow the elections to be conducted without interference. Local police, many of whom were recruited a week before the elections were trained by the PRT top ensure they could also help provide security during the elections.

In the weeks leading up to the elections the NZPRT conducted an information campaign to encourage people to vote and have their say in Afghanistan’s future. Locals were urged to contact the NZPRT is they knew of anyone who planned to disrupt the elections.

On election day, said Colonel Alexander, the NZ PRT provided shadow escorts for the movement of votes, and also provided security in the areas surrounding the polling and counting centres.

“We usually have four patrols out at any one time, but prior to the election we had seven patrols helping primarily with election security. Our support and logistic staff made up the extra patrols. I’m sure their success is largely due to the pre-deployment training they received before they left New Zealand, which included security tasking, weapon handling and convoy procedures.”

ENDS

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