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09KABUL1925 2009-07-20 08:52:00 UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY Embassy Kabul
Cable title:  

POLLING CENTER CLOSURES AND RELOCATIONS

Tags:   KDEM PGOV PREL AF 
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1. (SBU) SUMMARY: DSRSG Peter Galbraith's July 18 extraordinary
meeting that included Minister Of Defense Wardak, Deputy Minister Of
Interior Sadiqi, IEC Chief Electoral Officer Dr. Najafi, IEC Chief
Operations officer Hashem, ISAF Chief of Stability and Operations
Admiral Borsboom, the UK Charge, the Canadian Ambassador, the EU
Ambassador and Ambassador Carney was called to resolve the critical
issue of determining which of the Independent Election Commission's
(IEC) 6966 polling centers will open on August 20. The Ministry of
Defense (MOD) and the Ministry of Interior (MOI) play a crucial role
in determining an answer to this question - which has the potential
to impact public perception of Pashtu enfranchisement and the
success of the election. MOI and MOD have the responsibility of
surveying the viability of all polling center locations, but they
have not completed the surveys of all these sites. The IEC is still
waiting for a final list of which polling centers will open and
which will be relocated. The IEC is particularly concerned about
1200 polling centers in troubled areas. Galbraith's unrealized goal
for the meeting was to resolve which of these 1200 polling centers
in question should be relocated or cease to exist, and to carefully
manage that decision. End Summary.


2. (SBU) Galbraith opened with a stern warning that of the 6966 IEC
designated polling centers, 1200 are located in Taliban-occupied
districts or insecure districts where ANSF cannot provide security,
reducing the possibility of the centers opening on polling day. He
explained that having over 1000 "ghost polling centers" that exist
only on paper would seriously undermine the election process, the
international community, and the UN's role in the election. It is
critical to resolve which of the 1200 polling centers will truly not
open and those that should be relocated. Unless the IEC carefully
manages expectations and operates with full transparency, the public
could perceive that the election failed due to the unopened polling
centers. The ghost centers could also lead to public confusion and
greater opportunities for fraud. The IEC's highly synchronized
logistics plan is scheduled to begin shipment of election materials
from Kabul on July 21. Thus an accurately surveyed final polling
center list must be produced soonest.


3. (SBU) Wardak replied that MOD and MOI are already addressing the
problem and on July 16 had begun surveying all polling centers. He
asserted that 1550 polling centers have been surveyed and the MOD
and MOI will finish their assessment of the remaining 4959 within a
few days. He added "in a few days we will have a clear picture and
should be able to tell you which polling sites will open and how
many will have to be relocated." He also noted that Minister of
Interior Atmar plans to use local community security through the
tribal system to help secure questionable polling sites, as was done
in the last elections. Wardak recognized the negative impact the
lack of an accurate polling center list has on logistical
arrangements, but did not see it as a doomsday situation and asked
the group to allow ANSF time to complete the surveys. COMMENT: The
IEC gave MOD and MOI a complete list of polling sites that required
surveying on April 15. END COMMENT.


4. (SBU) The IEC reiterated that their logistics plan begins July


21. To maintain the integrity of the process, all election
materials must be carefully packed and labeled with precise
destinations before they are shipped from the IEC's Kabul
headquarters. The IEC stressed that they have no flexibility and
are already behind schedule making further delays problematic. The
IEC noted that to the most insecure areas take the longest to
transport and the IEC needs to send those shipments first - not last
after those to more secure areas have already gone out. The IEC
need ANSF to complete the security surveys and/or decisions on
tribal security solutions within the next few days. COMMENT: With
such a track record of ANSF delay IEC is not giving an inch of
flexibility, but, in fact can cope with some extra days delay. END
COMMENT.


5. (SBU) DRSG Galbraith reiterated that time is too short to have a
vague solution. He stressed that the IEC needs an exact list of
polling sites that will open on July 21 and answers as to what will
happen to the rest. Ambassador Carney pointed out the urgent need
to publically manage this information. COMMENT: the IEC, aware that
they need to be out in front of managing this crisis, have already
begun to use Tolo TV to release information to the public that a
portion of the polling centers in troubled areas will not open. END
COMMENT. Galbraith noted that the 1200, or 15% to 20% of the total,
polling centers are located in sparsely populated areas and would
not proportionally impact the population's ability to vote. If
managed correctly Afghans and internationals will be aware and would
understand that the reality is the result of a worsened security
situation. Wardak agreed to do everything possible to finalize the
surveys but would not commit to a date. He thanked the
international community for its support of the election. Galbraith
said that the meeting had been a "full and frank" exchange of ideas
on a difficult and crucial subject. He asked for the group to
reconvene on July 23 to determine ANSF's progress on completing a
final list of polling centers.
EIKENBERRY