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

Afghan Youth Debates: Civil Society Had Big Impact on Kunduz Polls

By Mohammad Isa Aria

Public awareness campaigns led to directly to the high turnout on election day in Afghanistan, an IWPR-organised debate in the northern province of Kunduz heard.

Hamidullah Baluch, a public awareness officer for the Independent Election Commission (IEC) in Kunduz, said his organisation as well as NGOs across the country had made great efforts to educate people about the polls.

“The Independent Election Commission alone held 21 big meetings with elite figures, elders, religious scholars and other groups, and provided them with information on the elections,” said Baluch. “There was good collaboration among the IEC, civil society organisations, and media outlets as they worked to institutionalise democracy,” he said. “In future, we will make efforts to eradicate the culture of war and violence. We must establish a culture of democracy instead.”

Some participants in the April 14 debate at Kunduz university noted election-day problems which they said undermined its success.

Abdul Qudus, an undergraduate at the university, raised issues like the shortage of ballot papers, and said that people at some polling stations were able to wipe off the supposedly indelible inkstain on their fingers that showed they had already voted.

He also alleged that IEC staff themselves as well as local strongmen interfered with the electoral process.

“Fraud and violations occur not only in Afghanistan but also in many developed countries around the world,” Baluch replied, adding that the shortage of ballot papers had not been a critical issue. “I want to reassure you that nobody can manipulate your right. It is you, the people, who decide your destiny.”

Baluch added that both Afghans and internationals were able to observe the count.

“The IEC staff are working under the observation of national and international observers and there are surveillance cameras as well, so you can be confident that the clean votes will be distinguished from the unclean ones,” he added.

Sayed Agha Sadid, a student at Kunduz university, asked whether fraud had been widespread in the province.

Baluch said no major cases had been reported, but noted that there had been one serious attack.

“When the filled ballot boxes were transported from Laghmani Hai Akhtash to Kunduz [city], a roadside bomb exploded and as a result two IEC staff, two drivers and one policeman were martyred, and the ballot boxes were destroyed.”

Another student, Parwiz Hashimi, asked about the role civil society organisations played in preventing fraud on election day.

Panelist Abdullah Rasuli, head of a civil society network in Kunduz, said NGOs played a bridging role between the public and the IEC by observing the elections.

“The civil society organisations were able to speak up when they spotted fraud and violations on election day in order to prevent it. It is only civil society that can assure people that their rights are protected,” he said.

Mohammad Isa Aria is a student at Kunduz 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.