Cablegate: Afghan Government Focuses On Election Planning

DE RUEHBUL #3727/01 3050611
O 010611Z NOV 07 ZDK





E.O. 12958: N/A

REF: A. KABUL 1198
B. KABUL 3498

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1. (SBU) The October 3 JCMB has helped the Afghan government
focus on the need to make several key decisions which will
enable the Independent Election Commission (IEC) to move
forward with plans for the 2009/10 Presidential,
Parliamentary, and Provincial Council elections. Parliament
is committed to passing a new Elections Law by early spring.
President Karzai has asked Parliament to provide him with
recommendations on streamlining the politically-sensitive
Electoral Calendar. These decisions will inform the JCMB's
decision in February 2008 whether to amend the Afghanistan
Compact benchmark to split off the voter registry from the
planned very complicated civil registry project. The draft
report of the commission President Karzai formed to ensure
that the Afghan-run IEC has sufficient resources to pull off
credible and efficient elections highlights the IEC's
resource and staff shortages and refers the decision on the
voter registry back to the Council of Ministers. So far, the
U.S. is the only donor to make a concrete financial
commitment for the next elections; other donors emphasize the
importance of "financial sustainability," a sign that they
are likely to make limited contributions. The Embassy is
developing a gameplan to encourage timely decisions by the
Afghan government on the Elections Law and the Electoral
Calendar, adoption of a simple-as-possible voter registry,
robust support for the IEC, and early commitments by other
donors for the overall election project. End Summary.


2. (SBU) Based on prior discussions within the JCMB Elections
Working Group, Independent Elections Commission (IEC)
Chairman Azizullah Ludin briefed the full JCMB on September 3
on four issues that must be resolved in order for elections
planning to move forward: the Civil and Voter Registry, the
draft Election Law, the timing of future elections, and
support for the IEC. The status of the four major elections
issues are outlined below.

--------------------------------------------- --

3. (SBU) The Afghanistan Compact mandated a combined Civil
and Voter Registry (CVR), envisioned as a single plastic card
functioning as both a national identification and a voter
registration card. There had been growing questions about
the costs and sustainability of a combined registry,
particularly the proposal for one based on biometrics. A
delayed and expensive UNDP pilot project confirmed that this
system would result in a much more complicated and expensive
system than required for elections alone and was very
unlikely to be completed in time for the next elections. The
pilot project reinforced the broad support in the
international community and Afghan government for a separate
voter registry consistent with the agreed goal of
establishing a feasible, affordable and sustainable elections

4. (SBU) The Council of Ministers agreed on June 25 that the
civil and voter registries should be split, following
lobbying by the Ministry of Interior. The MOI was reportedly
motivated by concern that the $30 million the Ministry of
Finance has slated for the purchase of a printing press for
the production of national identification cards (as well as
land titles, passports, ballot papers, and other valuable
documents) would remain with the MOI if, as happened weeks
later, civil functions were moved out of the ministry. The
Independent Election Commission (IEC) recognized that it
would be nearly impossible to complete a joint registry
before the 2009 election, but continues to resist the idea of
splitting the civil and voter lists, we understand largely
out of concern that doing so would mean funds dedicated to

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the MOI's civil registry project would no longer be available
for the voter registry. We have assured the IEC that USAID
is prepared to provide funds to make up all or part of the
loss, starting with a $15 million grant to UNDP for voter
registration. The Cabinet Commission formed by President
Karzai to address challenges faced by the IEC noted these
different views and referred the issue back to the Council of
Ministers, which is expected to confirm its support for
separate registries.

5. (SBU) Consistent with the commitment that elections should
be Afghan-led, and recognizing that final decisions on the
details of the voter registration system will need to reflect
the system established in the new election law, the JCMB on
October 3 simply expressed support, in principle, for
amending the Afghan Compact benchmark to de-link the combined
CVR. It agreed to wait until the JCMB in February 2008 to
formally amend the Compact to split the time-sensitive voter
registry from the civil registry. UNDP estimates that the
process of compiling a separate voter registry will need to
begin in Spring 2008 and cost approximately $100 million.


6. (SBU) The draft Elections Law submitted by the IEC to
the Ministry of Justice Legislative Affairs office (Taqnin)
will likely be approved by the Cabinet and submitted to
Parliament this fall, possibly for a vote by early spring.
The behind-the-scenes debate is about the degree to which the
electoral system should encourage a stronger party system.
President Karzai opposes party-based elections as an
invitation for the reemergence of tribal and/or warlord-based
politics. He favors a version of the Single Non-Transferable
Voting (SNTV) system used in the 2005 elections. Many
parliamentarians, most notably supporters of the United Front
(ref A), favor a stronger role for parties and support a
mixed Proportional Representation (PR) system that allocates
a percentage of seats to political parties. The version of
the draft law currently under consideration is based on
simplified SNTV, with some modifications to the law used for
the previous elections. Most notably, it permits the
inclusion of a candidate's party affiliation on the ballot
papers, a feature which was not permitted in the 2005

7. (SBU) We have underlined that the choice of a system is
for the Afghans to decide for themselves, but we are also
quietly urging an early decision. The law will likely need
to be signed by spring 2008. Under the Afghan Constitution,
the Electoral Law cannot be amended within the 12 months
prior to an election. As noted above, in order to have the
election registration list ready for elections, work on the
list, which must reflect the law, will need to begin by
spring 2008. (NOTE: The changes to the Electoral Law only
affect the Parliamentary and Provincial Council elections,
not the Presidential election. If only the Presidential
election is held in 2009, then the election law does not need
to be implemented until spring 2009, one year prior to the
Parliamentary and Provincial Council elections in 2010. END
NOTE.) If Karzai and the Parliament do not strike a deal,
the same law from the 2004/5 elections will apply in 2009/10.
The draft Election Law does not differ dramatically from the
legacy law, so the direct impact of this would be minor, but
an early decision would remove this contentious issue from
the political agenda and prevent further delay in
preparations for the elections.

8. (SBU) A visiting elections expert from the International
Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES), Andrew Reynolds,
told Poloff following several weeks of local consultations
that Parliament continues to push for more significant
reforms than Karzai and the IEC are offering. He speculated
that some parliamentary factions may be gearing up for a
fight; others may be jockeying for concessions on other
issues in return for compromise on the Election Law. The
international community continues to underline to the
government support for an Afghan decision, but also the need

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for timely action.

9. (SBU) Regardless of the system adopted, the draft
Elections Law foresees some form of minimal
redistricting. In the last elections, each province
functioned as a multi-member electoral constituency based on
population estimates. The version of the Election Law under
consideration stipulates that no single electoral district
can have more than 10 representatives. This means that
provinces entitled to more than 10 seats on the basis of
population estimates will be subdivided into 2-4 districts.
Smaller electoral districts means more representative
elections and shorter (and cheaper) ballots, but the
delineation process is typically highly
controversial. For example, Herat easily divides into two
districts (Herat city and the rest of the province), but it
is not obvious how Kabul would be divided into its four
districts. Hazara Wolesi Jirga member Mohammad Mohaqiq told
IFES's Andy Reynolds to expect redistricting to be


10. (SBU) The Afghan Constitution currently requires at least
12 nation-wide elections before 2020. The Afghans and the
international community recognize this will be a huge burden
on Afghanistan's fragile institutions and limited resources
and is likely to produce voter apathy. There are calls for
simplifying the election calendar, starting with the next
cycle. The IEC, UNAMA, and most donors focus on resource
issues and favor harmonization of the 2009/10 Presidential,
Parliamentary (Wolesi Jirga), and Provincial Council
elections. ISAF also favors fewer elections for security
reasons. The Ambassador has said he does not oppose
adjustments in the calendar but also highlights that separate
presidential and parliamentary elections contribute to the
democractic and plural character of a government. He has
said Afghanistan should not be allowed only as much democracy
as the international community is willing to pay for. He
also underlines that it must be an Afghan decision.

11. (SBU) President Karzai has asked Parliament to provide
him with recommendations on streamlining the elections
calendar. The commission he established to look at the IEC
did not address the issue, but MP Registani's Electoral
Affairs Committee has met once and plans to hold further
discussions. A UNAMA options paper taking account of
constitutional, political, operational, and climatic
considerations, outlines the implications of the three main
options for the 2009/10 cycle.

12. (SBU) Option One: Combined Presidential, Provincial
Council, and Wolesi Jirga elections in March 2009 could be
the cheapest option (according to UNDP) at a total
estimated cost of $222-265 million over 20 months.
However, election preparation during the winter has never
been tried in Afghanistan, spring elections are
logistically difficult in large parts of the north, and
cost savings could be eroded by the need for the immediate
ramp-up of Afghan and international resources. The IEC has
considerable capacity shortfalls and may not be ready in
time. Politically, it would require the Wolesi Jirga to
reduce the length of its term by over six months, something
that members have been loath to do. Wolesi Jirga Speaker
Qanooni reportedly opposes any such option that has the
elections on the same day because it could make him chose
between running for President and retaining his seat in
Parliament, although some in UNAMA have suggested that the
Constitution may not explicitly forbid a candidate to run for
both offices simultaneously.

13. (SBU) Option Two: Presidential elections in March 2009
and joint Provincial Council and Wolesi Jirga elections in
Spring 2010 are the most constitutionally-compliant option,
depending on how the terms in office are interpreted (e.g.
whether measured from the date of the election or the first
day on the job, whether a five year term ends exactly five

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years from the start or merely during the fifth calendar
year, or how to measure the terms of delayed elections,
etc.). It only requires a six-month delay for Provincial
Council elections, for which there is already a precedent.
This option puts the two most similar and complex elections
together as the final event in the sequence, thereby leaving
more time for preparation and the development of the voter
registry. This is the only option that would permit a delay
on passage of the Election Law until spring 2009 (vice 2008)
because the changes in the law do not affect the Presidential
election. Elections in the spring remain disadvantageous to
the north. Holding separate elections in 2009 and 2010
extends the operational timeframe to 32 months, bringing
UNDP's estimate of the total cost to $277-355 million.

14. (SBU) Option Three: Joint Presidential and Provincial
Council elections in fall 2009 and Wolesi Jirga elections in
fall 2010 would require the Wolesi Jirga to stay in office
beyond its five year term. If all stakeholders can agree on
an interpretation of term lengths, this will allow for more
time to conduct the electoral planning and voting when
weather conditions are more suitable. However, security may
be a greater concern because better weather also facilitate
insurgent operations. This option risks donor and voter
fatigue by extending the operational timeframe to 37 months
for a total UNDP cost estimate of $282-330 million.

15. (SBU) These options take into account several political
red-lines. President Karzai has stated he will not agree to
lengthening his mandated term. He is also adamantly opposed
to a Loya Jirga, which opposition groups claim would be
required to amend the Constitution to change the election
calendar. Karzai understands it would be difficult to limit
the authority of a Loya Jirga and is aware it might be used
to propose more fundamental constitutional changes. (These
may include amendments, supported by the Northern
Alliance-backed United Front, to introduce a parliamentary
system with a prime minister and to replace a system of
governors appointed by the executive with elected governors.)
There are reports of behind-the-scenes discussions between
the palace and parliamentary power brokers on the calendar
and related issues.

--------------------------------------------- --

16. (SBU) The 2004/2005 elections, run by the UN Joint
Election Monitoring Board (JEMB), were expensive and
difficult to execute. The U.S. contributed $95 million to
the $312 million UNDP project for the 2004/5 elections, and
financed additional electoral support programs estimated at
over $75 million. Since the Afghan-run Independent Election
Commission (IEC) took over from the JEMB, it has lost much of
its experienced staff due to the transition from a heavily
subsidized international pay scale to much lower civil
service salaries. Those working closely with the IEC are
concerned about its ability to conduct effective voter
education programs and administer elections without
significant and immediate capacity building assistance,
including an infusion of resources beyond what the Ministry
of Finance is prepared to provide.

17. (SBU) The cost of the 2009/10 elections is likely to be
similar to the previous elections, but there are
opportunities to save money. With fewer expensive
international staff and local employees on the Afghan
government pay scale, staff salaries will decrease, but
will be offset somewhat by the need for intensive capacity
building for the IEC's inexperienced staff. Shorter ballots,
better planning, and a new voter registry may decrease the
outrageous ballot printing costs from the previous elections.
Security was the single largest expense in the 2004/5
elections. The U.S. spent approximately $50 million on
private security. ISAF's presence in the provinces may help
reduce security expenses, even though the security
environment is less permissive in some parts of the country
than in 2004/5. A security assessment is needed with the
assistance of PRTs. We are working to engage ISAF in

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election security, starting with providing information for an
elections security assessment.

19. (SBU) So far, the U.S. is the only donor to make a
concrete financial commitment for the next elections. The FY
2008 supplemental includes a request for about $100 million
for elections and the FY 2009 budget includes $97 million in
election and political party support. Other donors have
emphasized the importance of "financial sustainability," no
doubt a priority, but also a euphemism for reduced
contributions. A decision by the Afghan government on the
Electoral Calendar will allow for more precise estimates.


20. (SBU) The Embassy is developing a game plan for
supporting elections under the various scenarios that may
emerge based on GOA decisions over the coming months. We
will continue to remind the Palace and parliamentary
leadership of the importance of timely decisions,
particularly the importance of avoiding elections decisions
being held hostage to other issues. When appropriate, we
will facilitate acceptable political agreements among Afghans
on issues, including the Election Law and Electoral Calendar.
We will underline to the GOA the need to adequately support
the IEC. We will continue to work with UNAMA and through the
JCMB to formalize separation of the civil and voter
registries. We will also continue to resist suggestions from
our international partners that security conditions could
delay or prevent elections, underlining that it is up to the
international community to ensure elections can and do take
place. Finally, we will continue to press donors for
significant commitments to help cover election costs.
Washington support on this final issue will be most helpful,
including ensuring adequate donor support for elections is
one of the goals of any upcoming Afghan donor conference.

© Scoop Media

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