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

Afghan Youth Debates: Civil Society Helped "Amazing" Herat Turnout

By Harun Hakimi






NGOs and the media played a pivotal role in ensuring that people in western Afghanistan went out to vote in massive numbers, speakers at an IWPR-organised debate said.

Addressing an April 14 discussion held at Herat’s private Kahkashan-e Sharq university, Khalil Parsa, coordinator of a civil society network made up of some 90 organisations in Herat and about 200 more around western Afghanistan, said the grouping had held seminars, public meetings and other events in Herat province over the past year to raise awareness about the electoral.

“Active institutions have always tried to encourage people to go to the ballot box and vote in an informed, aware way,” Parsa said. “Luckily, on April 5, people displayed unimaginable motivation. Even though we had consistently tried to encourage people to go to polls, we never believed they would participate in such numbers.

Parsa concluded by describing the turnout as “amazing”.

Journalism student Barat Ali Behkam asked Parsa, “What responsibility do civil societies for preventing people’s votes going to waste? What should they do to ensure each vote is counted so that the people determine the country’s future?”

Parsa said around 100 members of his civil society network acted as observers of the voting and subsequent count.

“These individuals were able to prevent fraud to some extent,” he said. “Naturally, we are in constant contact with the [election] commission.… If there is a problem, we can make our views known through the media.”

Sayed Najibollah Hadid, a lecturer at the faculty of journalism at Herat university, described the media as a strong component of civil society.

“The media played a major role in motivating people before and during the elections,” he said, adding that this had augmented the efforts made by NGOs and political activists. “The important thing the media did was to portray the relatively safe atmosphere [created] by the strong performance of the security forces. This was of course prone to… make people hopeful and motivated.”

Audience member Nazir Ahmad asked how well civil society groups had performed in dangerous and remote areas.

“We invited people from inaccessible areas to come to the city,” Parsa replied. “We provided elders, elite figures and other influential community figures communities with an opportunity to come and get information at seminars, workshops and other events.”

Harun Hakimi is a university student in Herat 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.