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Afghan Youth Debates: April Elections "Best Ever"

A leading Afghan journalist says that despite some hitches, the April 5 elections were the most successful the country has experienced to date.

Shah Hussain Mortazawi, editor-in-chief of the Hasht-e Sobh newspaper, told an April 10 debate which IWPR held at Kabul’s Bakhtar University that the polls should not be judged by the same standards applied in other, more developed countries.

“The principal difference between us and others is that we're still at the start of the journey,” he said. “We suffer from ethnic, regional, factional and other issues. People still don’t think about [candidates’] programmes here. They base their impressions on ethnicity, personal interest and other things.”

Mortazawi acknowledged there had been some problems including shortages of ballot papers and insufficient numbers of experienced election observers. But he said each Afghan election was better than the last, and the April 5 one was particularly successful.

“Good security, a high turnout and the presence of observers were the main features of these elections,” he said. “In general, one can say that these elections were better than previous ones.”

Hasina Sherzad, deputy spokesperson for the Independent Election Commission (IEC), agreed that there had been some problems during the elections, but she regarded them as purely technical issues.

“The numbers of polling stations and ballot papers were calculated based on the two previous elections. That was a technical shortcoming that will be addressed in future elections,” she said.

Sayed Nek Mohammad, a student in the audience, noted that the the IEC had printed 13 million ballot papers, while over seven million people voted.

“Where are the additional papers now?” he said, asking why ballot sheets had not been transferred to areas where there was a shortage.

Sherzad said the IEC could account for all the ballot papers.

“We were unable to transfer ballot papers from one polling centre to another, because every polling station had a specific code. If that had happened, we would have been unable to spot fraud.”

Masihollah, another audience member, asked whether some polling stations opened later than others, and if so, whether this was in breach of the rules.

Describing this too as a technical matter, Sherzad said, “Yes, some polling stations started their work later. For this reason, the IEC extended the polling period for one hour, from 4 pm to 5pm.”

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.

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