Afghan Youth Debates: Engaging Youth in Nangarhar Poll Monitoring
Civil society groups in the Nangarhar province of eastern Afghanistan have accused the Independent Election Commission (IEC) of failing to encourage young people to volunteer as poll observers.
Mohammad Anwar Sultani, an activist, told an IWPR debate in the eastern city of Jalalabad that impartial monitoring of the April 5 presidential and provincial elections was an essential part of efforts to prevent fraud.
"The election commission in Nangarhar must provide civil society institutions and young people with the facilities to help observe the election properly," Sultani said.
He added that he felt let down by IEC officials in the province and hoped that "proper attention" would now be given to encouraging greater youth participation.
The IEC’s role is to administer the elections, not monitor them – a task left to NGOs like the Free and Fair Election Foundation, which has said it expects to field neutral observers across 70 per cent of Afghanistan.
Matiullah Ahmadzai, the head of the provincial government department for youth affairs, also expressed concerns about the failure to recruit young volunteers.
Candidates will have campaign agents carrying out monitoring for them, but Ahmadzai said that in areas where they did not have offices, it was highly unlikely they would be able to uncover foul play by their rivals. This made it crucial for independent observers to be deployed.
Rabbani Zalmai, the IEC's regional spokesman in Nangarhar, took the views of the students and his fellow-panellists on board, and said he hoped to see civil society activists at polling centres across the province.
Zalmai said official figures showed that 195,000 people in Nangarhar had obtained voting cards, 40 per cent of them women.
Mohammad Yusuf Alokozai, representing the Washington-based National Democratic Institute, said his organisation had trained the campaign staff of some candidates on the procedures for reporting ballot fraud allegations to the Electoral Complaints Commission.
The IWPR debate took place on February 12 before an audience of around 60 students from Nangarhar University.
Zabihullah Ghazi is a student at Nangarhar 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.