Despite Escalating Violence, Afghans Remain Determined to Elect Their New President
April 2, 2014
Afghanistan’s presidential election on April 5 stands to play a crucial and historical role in the country’s nascent process of democratization, and offers a chance to renew the legitimacy of its political process. However, deteriorating security conditions in the lead up to the election have led candidates and citizens across many parts of the country to voice concern about violence on election day as well as the likelihood of fraud, mostly in the form of ballot stuffing and ghost polling stations. These concerns are on the rise, despite the passage of two election laws in 2013 that aimed to provide a much-needed legal framework for election procedures.
In an effort to undermine the election, armed insurgents have led a series of high profile and deadly attacks, including a suicide bombing that killed six policemen at the Afghan Interior Ministry on Wednesday, and an attack on the Independent Election Commission (IEC) headquarters as well as its provincial office in Kabul a week before election day. These attacks have also killed a number of IEC staff and candidates’ campaign staff in several provinces across the country since election campaigning began in February. In addition, following an insurgent attack on the Serena Hotel in Kabul on March 21, the majority of the international observers who came to Afghanistan to monitor the election have either pulled out of the country or have been instructed to not travel to the provinces.
Despite these somber events, political campaign rallies have in fact taken place relatively peacefully, with thousands of people turning out in some provinces. It is widely believed that these campaigns have been much more organized compared to the 2009/10 elections. Regardless of ethnic boundaries and security realities, front-runners of the April 5 presidential election have been traveling throughout the country, holding public events and rallies to influence voters’ choice and encourage political participation. For the first time since 2001, several national television outlets organized live debates between the candidates and political and civic activists, with a focus on the candidates’ agendas rather than their personalities and linkages to sources of power. While the level of detail and depth of these debates remains fairly basic, they are nonetheless a positive indication of greater optimism in the election process and acceptance that elections are the only means for democratic transfer of power in Afghanistan.
Due to increased access to the internet in Afghanistan in recent years, social media is playing an important role in political campaigning for this year’s election. Most of the 11 candidates, including the front-runners, are using social media (mainly Facebook) to promote their election campaigns and reach out to new target audiences, particularly the youth that make up more than half of the population in Afghanistan.
Deteriorating security conditions in the run-up to the election is unfortunately nothing new here in Afghanistan. However, Afghan youth have been actively engaged in this year’s election, organizing public gatherings in reaction to security incidences, including in the aftermath of the Serena Hotel attack, and publically stating that violence will not stop them from voting on April 5.
This increased and more transparent political participation among candidates, the media, and citizens is contributing to a palpable sense of hope in the days before the election. Another important and noteworthy fact is that while international election monitors will be limited, over 72,000 accredited domestic election observers will be at the polls to ensure that those who want to vote will be able to exercise their right to do so.
Insecurity still remains a challenge – perhaps the greatest – but Afghans are much more determined this year to participate in elections compared to 2009 and 2010. Their determination has been influenced by the fact that they will go to the polls to vote in an election that could result in the first democratic transfer of power in the country’s history and that they have the information needed to be able to make that choice.
Abdullah Ahmadzai is The Asia Foundation’s deputy county representative in Afghanistan and Idrees Ilham is director of the Foundation’s Governance Program there. They can be reached at [email protected] and [email protected], respectively. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the individual authors and not those of The Asia Foundation.
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