Afghan Youth Debates: Elections a Huge Challenge

The success of Afghanistan's April 5 elections will depend on good security, effective observers, and help from the international community, an IWPR debate has heard.

Naim Ayubzada, director of the Transparent and Fair Election Foundation of Afghanistan, a poll monitoring group, said holding an election was unquestionably an enormous challenge to a country still fighting determined insurgents.

Other obstacles included a lack of public awareness about the vote and high levels of illiteracy. As a result, it was impossible to predict whether the election would pass off peacefully, and whether it would be free and fair.

“There are many factors affecting free and fair elections," Ayubzada told more than 100 students attending the event at Kabul University on January 27. "The key issues centre around security at polling stations, a lack of public awareness and illiteracy. If we're to see free and fair elections, then we must have stability, unbiased and professional election observers, and assistance from the international community.”

One of the students in the audience, Masud Faizi, asked the panellists whether they believed Afghanistan was in a strong enough position to hold these elections given the security concerns. Other participants questioned the impartiality of the Independent Election Commission (IEC).

Abdul Jabar Sapand, the chairman of the Association of Afghan Election Officials, said he was "confident" that a transparent election was possible.

“The current situation in Afghanistan requires a free and fair vote," he said. "We may face problems, but we can hold this election. It's the best means of transferring political power."

Mohammad Hussain Saramat, head of research at the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, questioned whether the IEC was capable of overseeing the process effectively.

He criticised the body for failing to prevent interference by Iran and Pakistan during the 2009 presidential election.

"We can assert that the last election was not fair," he told the audience. "Interference by neighbouring nations was too great."

Abdullah Afghani, a spokesman for the election commission, disagreed.

“The IEC has maintained its independence," he insisted. "There has been no pressure from outside influences.”

Enayatullah Omari is a student at Kabul 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.