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

Afghan Youth Debates: Helmand Polls Show People Embrace Democracy






The success of this year’s presidential and provincial council elections in Afghanistan was unprecedented, experts said at an April 10 event organised by IWPR in the southern Helmand province.

Wide public participation, high levels of transparency and tight security showed the world that Afghans had embraced democracy, Sardar Mohammad Hamdard, a local civil society leader, said during a debate held at Helmand’s university.

In response to a question by education student Mohammad Farid, 23, about how security had been assured, Hamdard said, “Although Afghanistan's enemies wanted to create instability on election day, government forces ensured good security and there was massive participation in the elections.”

Agriculture student Mohammad Joma asked the panel – which also included Mohammad Yusof Pashtun of the Free and Fair Election Foundation of Afghanistan – how the April 5 elections compared with past ones.

“These elections were much better than previous elections,” said Delawar Ferdaus, a presenter at Bost Radio. “First, more people participated in them, and security was better as well.”

Shafiollah Safi, spokesman for the Independent Election Commission (IEC) in Helmand, addressed the issue of an election-day shortage of ballot papers, which some have put down to fraud.

Shafi said 600 ballot papers were provided for every polling station, based on a calculation of one vote per minute, excluding time taken for lunch and prayer, so that there would be enough to last until four in the afternoon. However, at some polling stations, the ballot papers ran out by midday.

“It was a technical problem, not fraud. We were told that there were 100 papers in every sheaf, but some of them contained only 50, which ran out early,” he said.

Participants in the debate said that if the presidential election went to a second round, security officials and members of the public should maintain their total commitment to the process.

Mohammad Wali Zirak is a university student in Helmand 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.