Afghan Youth Debates: Students Voice Concerns About Election Law

Students in Afghanistan's Balkh province have called for reforms to a number of electoral laws which they claim hamper young people from playing a more active role in politics.

Undergraduates attending an IWPR-backed debate in the northern city of Mazar-e Sharif questioned why the constitution barred anyone who was under the age of 25, or who had failed to complete high school, from standing in provincial elections.

Students claimed that the legislation had deterred many otherwise suitable candidates from coming forward, at a time when Afghan leaders should be trying to encourage greater participation in local government.

“Why does the election law stipulate that only those aged 25 and above can stand in provincial council elections?" one student asked. "Don’t you think it suppresses the talents of those who are under that age but would still like to be nominated?”

Fazulurrahman Fikrat, a civil society activist, agreed that the current age limits for provincial elections were a concern, and that students had every right to voice objections.

“These restrictions will continue to be obstacles hindering Afghanistan's youth unless they are fought against," he added.

The IWPR debate was held on December 19 at Balkh University before an audience of around 100 students.

Sayed Mohammad Samay, a spokesman for the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission in Balkh, addressed the issue of the ceiling placed on the amount of money presidential candidates were allowed spend on their campaigns.

He claimed the current ceiling of 180,000 US dollars was far too low. “That amount of money wouldn’t even cover the printing of campaign posters, let alone other costs,” he said.

Another criticism levelled during the discussion concerned the allocation of seats within the lower house of parliament, the Wolesi Jirga.

Zenat, student of law and politics, asked the panellists why ten seats were reserved for the Kuchi, who are Pashtun nomads. She argued that members of this group were no different from other Afghan citizens and should not receive special treatment.

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.