Afghan Youth Debates: Votes as Valuable as Gold

Having an opportunity to vote in Afghanistan's coming provincial and presidential elections is worth its weight in gold, a civil society leader has told students in the southern Helmand province.

Speaking at an IWPR debate in Lashkar Gah, the chairman of Helmand’s Civil Society Association, Sardar Mohammad Hamdard, said every ballot was immensely valuable both to the individual voter and to the country.

Addressing an audience of students, he urged everyone present to get behind the electoral process and help ensure that people voted in large numbers on polling day. The higher the turnout on April 5, the more successful the outcome would be, he said.

"Your vote is as valuable as gold to you and your country," he claimed. "We must all participate in the electoral process together so as to determine our future."

Atiqullah, a university student attending the November 22 event, said many of his contemporaries were worried about the caliber of the candidates standing, and questioned whether some of them were sufficiently well-educated to hold public office.

"We're concerned that incompetent, illiterate representatives may once again be elected to provincial councils," he told the audience. "Are there any rules on this?"

University lecturer Mohammad Qasem Adel responded by citing Afghanistan’s election law which sets minimum educational requirements.

"Those who stand in presidential elections must have completed a bachelor's degree, be at least 40 years old, and have Afghan citizenship," he said. "Those who stand in provincial council elections must be high school graduates and be at least 25.”

Abdul Manaf Fardin, a psychologist who was among the panelists at the debate, urged students to vote wisely and to ensure that this counted towards a stronger, more prosperous future for Afghanistan. If the ballot proved free and fair, he argued, Afghans could look forward to living in a more stable country.

"We should all vote for competent candidates in the upcoming elections, regardless of ethnic or regional issues. This is our opportunity to build our own future. If the elections are held properly and transparently, it will contribute to stability."

Dadullah Zelgai is a student at Helmand 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.