Afghan Youth Debates: Election Candidates Should Meet Basic Educational Standards

Students and panellists at an IWPR debate have criticised a regulation banning anyone without a high school education from standing as a provincial council candidate in Afghanistan's April election.

Feroz Isar, a civil society activist, claimed that the rule was an ill-judged double standard, since it did not apply to members of the Wolesi Jirga, the lower house of Afghanistan’s parliament. He said parliamentarians were expected to be well educated, and it stood to reason that they should at least be required to have completed high school.

Without minimum qualification standards, he argued, there was a risk that unsuitable candidates would attempt to use their influence to bully and bribe their way into positions of power.

"The lack of educational standards for Wolesi Jirga candidates opens the door to individuals who are elected only on the basis of the power of money and weapons," Isar told the December 19 debate in Mazar-e Sharif. "In my opinion, those elected to the Wolesi Jirga must hold higher education qualifications. They must also have an awareness of national and international law because as members of parliament, they are the lawmakers."

Sayed Mohammad Sami, regional chairman of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) for Balkh province, agreed that parliamentarians should be forced to meet minimum educational standards.

"Setting educational standards for provincial council candidates and the lack of similar rules for Wolesi Jirga Assembly members is a serious challenge," he said.

Sami also suggested that the election date had been set too early in the year for reasons of climate.

"April 5, the day scheduled for our election, is not a good choice for a mountainous country like Afghanistan,” he said. “The weather can be very cold at this time, and snow and blocked roads are common."

Sakhi Dad Mahdiyar is a student at Balkh University and an IWPR trainee.

This report was produced as part of Open Minds: Speaking Up, Reaching Out – Promoting University and Youth Participation in Afghan Elections, an IWPR initiative funded by the US embassy in Kabul.