Afghan Youth Debates: Young Voters Urged to Vote on Candidates' Merits
Afghanistan's young people should ignore the temptation to vote along ethnic lines and instead pick a presidential candidate who best represents their interests, speakers at a January 23 IWPR debate in the western Herat province said.
Nazir Ahmad, a student at Herat University, emphasised the importance of selecting a leader for reasons of merit rather than regional or other affiliation.
Millions of voters will head to the polls on April 5 to elect a new president to succeed Hamed Karzai. In previous elections, voters have tended to support candidates of their own ethnic, regional or political group.
“Many people say they will vote along ethnic lines," Ahmad warned the debate. "But Afghanistan will not become prosperous with that kind of mentality. It would be better to vote based on merit. We should vote for knowledgeable candidates who have the best plans to assist this country."
The debate took place in Ghoryan district, some 80 kilometres west of the provincial centre Herat city. The panelists included the head of a local girls' high school, a women's rights activist and the head of the district's youth council. A total of 55 men and 45 women attended the event.
Official figures show more than 60 per cent of Afghans are under 25 years old. Wahidullah Poya, a local reporter, stressed how important the youth vote would be in this election and urged those present to keep an open mind about which candidate to back.
“A successful election will depend on the thoughts and actions of Afghanistan's young people," Poya said. "The youth vote must be open-minded and not based along traditional lines."
He added, “In Afghanistan, it's usually the candidate's personality that gets focused on rather than his or her policies for the country. If voters, particularly young ones, place policy above the individual, then we’ll be able to overcome many of our problems.”
Nur Gul, a representative of the district governor, told students to vote for figures who were trying to bring peace to Afghanistan, who loved their country, and who could unite people.
“It should be an Islamic leader who only has Afghan citizenship," he said. "He should not go to Dubai at dusk and come back to Afghanistan at dawn. He should be able to bring the nation under one umbrella.”
Hamed Sirat, a young man from Ghoryan district, said, “I hope the new president will fight poverty, illiteracy, instability, and unemployment. These are the big obstacles facing Afghanistan’s youth.”
Harun Hakimi is a student at Herat 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.