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Elections and Registration in Afghanistan (ERA) Project

Afghanistan Transitional Election Management Body
ERA Topical Report #1

Jeff Fischer
February 1, 2003

1. Introduction

The 2004 Bonn Agreement elections in Afghanistan can be administered by a combined national/international effort that respects the sovereignty of the process and recognizes the requirements for international assistance and development. The election authority or election management body (EMB) should be considered as transitional in nature, that is, the people, processes and institutions to be employed in 2004 are open for reform in subsequent elections. The EMB is a multi-institutional concept, that is, it includes a Central Election Commission, Provincial or other Local Election Commissions, a Central Secretariat, Provincial or other Local Election Offices, and an Electoral Tribunal.

The EMB's strategy, structure and authority should be drawn from relevant examples of EMBs in peace and reconciliation processes rather than from structures present in established democracies. As Rafael Lopez Pintor writes about reconciliation elections, "These experiences shed new light on the importance of elections as part of a broader process of national reconciliation and political movement toward multiparty democracies. In these cases, the transitional elections have traits distinctive from those of elections that have taken place elsewhere after peaceful reform by authoritarian governments."i

The EMBs administering these electoral processes have been developed in different configurations and with different levels of international participation. For example, there have been seven sets of elections held since 1993 with substantial international supervision or policy presence in the EMB. This is an important distinction because in these cases, the population to be governed by the results of the elections chose to have the process administered and certified by non-nationals. The mandates for such election supervision or policy presence were contained in either peace agreements or Security Council Resolutions.

2. Examples of International Election Supervision

Below are examples of the roles that the international community has played in the supervision or policy presence in post-conflict elections.

2.1 Cambodia (1993)

Security Council Resolution 718 established the United Nations Transitional Administration in Cambodia (UNTAC). This Resolution followed the conclusion of several rounds of peace talks and the signing of the Paris Agreements. These agreements formed a provisional government involving the four factions coalescing into the Supreme National Council (SNC). However, the centrality of the UN's role in the elections was clear. In fact, one of the main features of the mandate was the conduct of elections under UN supervision. UNTAC was to exercise control over existing government institutions having influence on the outcome of the elections.

UNTAC worked with the SNC in the development of electoral laws and procedures. UNTAC had a Chief Electoral Officer and 198 international staff in 21 provincial and municipal centers. In additional, there were 400 United Nations Volunteers (UNV) in 200 districts around most of the country. The UNVs served as the local election officers and provided services in election operations, information, training, communications, compliance, complaints and coordination. On Election Day(s), there were 1,000 international election supervisors on duty with 56,000 national staff working in 8,000 polling teams.

2.2 South Africa (1994)

The de facto "peace accord" that formed the parameters for the South African elections was the Interim Constitution adopted on November 17, 1993, and a series of preceding agreements between the ANC and the government. An Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) was established by the Independent Electoral Commission Act of October 1993. The IEC had 16 members, 11 of whom were South African and five who were non-voting International Members. The State President appointed the members with advice from the Transitional Executive Council (TEC).

The TEC was tasked to work with the government of South Africa to facilitate the transition to a pluralistic and multi-racial democracy. The Independent Broadcast Authority/Independent Media Commission (IBA/IMC) that was mandated to maintain equity in programming and ownership also influenced the electoral process.

The TEC's secretariat was organized into three nearly autonomous directorates: 1) Election Administration Directorate (EAD), 2) Election Monitoring Directorate (EMD) and 3) Election Adjudication Secretariat. International and national staffs were employed at the directorates. The EAD was responsible for designing the election procedures and operational guidelines. The EMD monitored the activities of the EAD at all levels. The EMB also reported violations of political party codes of conduct. The Election Adjudication Secretariat operated three levels of disputes: 1) Electoral Tribunals; 2) Electoral Appeal Tribunals; and 3) Special Electoral Court.

2.3 Bosnia and Herzegovina (1996-2001)

Under the terms of the Dayton Peace Accords, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) was mandated to supervise the conduct of post-conflict elections. In the end, the OSCE supervised five elections after the conflict concluded. The Provisional Election Commission (PEC) was described in the Dayton Accords and consisted of nine members, three of whom were international. The international Chair had veto authority over PEC decisions. An international occupied the chief staff position, the Director General of Elections for the OSCE Mission. A headquarters and field staff of international election officers supported the Director General.

Subordinate to the PEC was a network of Entity Election Commissions, Cantonal Election Commissions (Federation only) and 140 opstima or municipality-based Local Election Commissions. An Election Appeals Sub-commission (EASC) heard and adjudicated complaints about the process. A Media Experts Commission also existed for the first cycle of elections to monitor and reduce hate speech and disinformation from media organizations.

On Election Day in 1996, the operation included over 2,000 international polling station supervisors and 32,000 polling station committee members (nationals) at 4,500 polling stations. This structure was largely preserved in the subsequent elections.

2.4 Eastern Slavonia (1997)

Under the terms of the Erdut Agreement, a UN mission (United Nations Transitional Authority in Eastern Slavonia or UNTAES) was mandated to administer municipal elections and elections of representatives to the House of Counties for the Croatian parliament in Osijec-Baranja and Vukovar-Sirmium regions. The policy responsibility for the regulation and conduct of the election rested largely with the UN Transitional Administrator.

A Chief Electoral Officer for UNTAES had the operational lead for the election with a reported staff of around 30 internationals. This administration was supported by a network of Local Election Commissions (LEC) and Polling Station Committees (PSC).

2.5 Liberia (1997)

The Abuja Accords II established an Independent Electoral Commission (IECOM) to conduct the post-conflict presidential and legislative elections. The IECOM was composed of seven national members and international representations of the UN, one by the Organization for African Unity (OAU) and one by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). The seven national members represented different constituencies – political parties, NPFL, ULIMO, LPC, labor and trade, women, and youth.

The United Nations Observer Mission in Liberia (UNOMIL) provided technical assistance to the IECOM for election operations.

2.6 East Timor (2000 – 2002)

The May 5, 1999, New York Agreement signed by the UN, the government of Portugal, and the government of Indonesia mandated the UN to supervise and conduct the Popular Consultation on the independence question. The three-person Electoral Commission was composed of internationals but possessed no policy or operational responsibilities. Its role was to adjudicate any claims of disenfranchised registrants, to hear complaints about the electoral process, and to certify the results. In this case, the Electoral Commission had no operational responsibilities.

A Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) supervised the operations involving international headquarters staff, district offices, and around 200 UNVs who served as field registration and polling supervisors. The package of election rules was promulgated through the Special Representative of the Secretary General (SRSG) for the United Nations Mission in East Timor (UNAMET). This structure was more or less preserved in the subsequent mission, United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET) that supervised assembly and Presidential elections.

2.7 Kosovo (2001-2003)

Under Security Council Resolution 1244, the United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) was mandated to conduct elections. This mandate was delegated to the third pillar of UNMIK, the OSCE. A 12-member commission was composed of representatives of the Ramboillett Kosovo-Albanian "party" signatories, civil society, and minority ethnic communities. There were three international members with the Chair's veto authority over CEC decisions. A Director of Elections for the OSCE Mission in Kosovo (OMIK) supervised election operations.

3. National Administration of Post-Conflict Elections

However, there are also examples of EMBs with no formal international policy presence or election supervision conducting elections as part of broader peace initiatives. The table below lists examples of such elections.

National Election Administration



Peace Operation

Type of Election



United Nations Angola Verification Mission (UNAVEM II)

Presidential and Legislative


El Salvador

United Nations Observer Mission in El Salvador (ONUSAL)

Presidential (1993), Legislative Assembly (1994), Municipal and Central American Parliament (1994)



United Nations Operation in Mozambique (ONUMOZ)

Presidential and Parliamentary



United Nations Mission in Haiti (UNMIH)

Presidential and Legislative



No Acronym

Presidential and Parliamentary

4. Transitional Electoral Management Body in Afghanistan

Under the Bonn Agreement, UNAMA can assume a leadership position in the electoral process. In fulfilling the Bonn mandate, UNAMA and the Transitional Authority of Afghanistan must devise the regulations and implementing institutions to elect the next levels of government. The election law underpinning the process (or a package of election, political party, NGO, and media laws) should be issued by Presidential Decree, a mechanism considered a surrogate for the legislative process for the moment. Not only will this Decree or series of Decrees define the process, it will also describe the functions and responsibilities of the institutions required to administer the process outlined in law.

At the top of the hierarchy is the Independent Central Election Commission (ICEC). The ICEC is charged with organizing the election to be conducted in 2004. ICEC's composition, responsibilities and authority are governed by the Presidential Decree. It is independent from other government organs. During this transitional phase, its membership is approved by the UN as was the case with other special commissions.

The ICEC's administrative and operational responsibilities include the following:

In addition to these formal responsibilities, the ICEC can consider devising ad hoc outreach instruments to engage the Afghan political community and international supporters in confidence-building measures for the election process. These include political party and NGO monitoring consultative forums, donor coordination meetings, and vendor oversight mechanisms. The ICEC could also establish a relationship and membership with the Association of Asian Election Authorities (AAEA) in order to begin exchanges on regional electoral practices.

At the central level as well, an Independent Central Electoral Tribunal (ICET) can be created in the same Decree to hear and adjudicate three levels of complaints: 1) denials of voter registration by individuals; 2) complaints about political campaign conduct by voters, candidates, parties, observers or media organizations; and 3) challenges to the results of the election. However, final certification authority should remain with the ICEC.

Subordinate to the ICEC and ICET is a network of local election commissions whose configuration is largely dependent upon the level of political contests ultimately organized. For example, for the purposes of decentralized management alone, provincial election commissions and offices are considered as part of this EMB model. However, if municipal elections are to be held, then consideration should be given to establishing municipal election commissions and offices.

In any case, the responsibilities of the local election commissions include the following:

The ICEC and ICET should be composed of national members. International presence should take the form of technical assistance, policy guidance and issue mediation. The national members should be named by a consensus agreement of the Transitional Authority and the UN and could be selected using three different approaches. First, the membership could represent or reflect a community such as an ethnic group, political party (if a political party law exists), sector, or profession; second, it could reflect elites, that is, judges, attorneys, academics, or clerics; and third, the EMB membership could be skill-based, that is, conducted as a professional executive search.

Regardless of the formula, the ICEC should be composed of only nine to 11 members, and one-third of them should be women. Similarly, the ICET should have no more than three judges with international presence serving the same function as with the ICEC. Local election commissions should be composed of no more than five to seven members and selected according to similar criteria as the ICEC.

The ICEC and its subordinate commissions must be administratively supported by a national secretariat and local (i.e. provincial) election offices to conduct election operations. Until the ICEC can establish administrative capacity, the national secretariat will be operated by the UN and staffed with both international and national election officers. At the local (provincial) level, an international election officer and other appropriate staff should be teamed with a local election commission and staff.

In addition, there will certainly be offers of bilateral assistance to the election process that will require management, coordination and channeling. By establishing an implementation agency for the secretariat, the UN can coordinate its administrative responsibilities at the planning and management levels, establish protocols with the ICEC and ICET, and provide a means to organize multilateral electoral contributions.

Upon its formation, the ICEC should immediately request that observation of its activities commence. This observation initiative can involve intergovernmental organizations such as the European Union (EU), OSCE, and Arab League; bilateral initiatives; international and local NGOs; and political parties.

i Pintor, Rafael Lopez, "Reconciliation Elections: A Post-Cold War Experience, Rebuilding Societies after Civil War, Lynne Reiner Publishers, 1997, page 43.