Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Afghan Youth Debates: Ballot-Box Beats the Gun

The record numbers of voters in Afghanistan's first round of elections provide definitive proof that the country has rejected violence in favour of the ballot, an IWPR debate has heard.

Ahmad Shah Ahmadzai, head of a youth association in the southeastern Paktia province, said the April 5 poll was an unprecedented display of the public's will to back democratic governance and seek an end to war.

Speaking to students from Paktia University, he argued that Afghans had woken up to the fact that conflict and coups were not the only means of regime change. The nearly seven million voters who turned out to elect a successor to President Hamed Karzai did so in the knowledge that it was they, not outsiders, who had the capacity to shape their future.

"Our people showed that they wanted change and this election was good news for the country's future," Ahmadzai told the May 8 debate at which he was a panellist. "People realised how valuable their role was in a democratic process, and that it was they who would determine their own destiny."

Afghans are expected to head to the polls for a second round of voting on June 14 after none of the eight candidates standing in the presidential race secured the 50 per cent of votes required to win outright.

Two contenders are likely to face each other in the next round – Abdullah Abdullah, a former foreign minister who won about 45 per cent of the vote in the first round, and Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, a former World Bank executive who secured nearly 32 per cent.

Sher Ali Faizi, Paktia's regional head of public awareness at the Independent Election Commission, the body in charge of conducting the vote, told the debate that it was critical for the election to be seen to be transparent.

He argued that Afghans expected their votes, often cast at enormous risk, to be respected. The Independent Electoral Complaints Commission is currently investigating allegations of fraud.

"The nation voted in order to have an independent and stable country where the rule of law is ensured and there is no cruelty or oppression," Faizi told the audience. "The future government should pay serious attention to the nation's demands."

Ahmadzai went on to stress the important role that young Afghans played in the build-up to the first round. He praised youth groups for leading the way in raising public awareness and encouraging voter participation.

"It was young people who were tireless in their efforts to raise public awareness," he told students. "They also played a decisive role in observing the election process and resisting attempts at fraud."

Nurrahman Farhat, a student, asked the speakers how much they believed a second round of voting would cost. So far, the process is reported to have cost 129 US dollars million, of which 55 million came from the United States, 2.5 million from the Afghan government and the remainder was made up by international donors. Holding a second round of voting has been costed at 20 million dollars.

Mohammad Yusuf Molatar, regional head of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission in Paktia, said another round would undoubtedly require extra money, but argued that the price was worth paying if the result was a stronger, more accountable government.

"The nation's goal is to have a good future government, with inefficient and ineffectual officials removed and replaced with knowledgeable, just and honest individuals," he said. "Merit must win over regional or ethnic differences."

Mohammad Khan Raihan is a student at Paktia 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.