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

Making Votes Count in Afghanistan

IWPR project encourages young voters to think about the issues and take part in crucial polls.
By IWPR Afghanistan
  • Voting in Balkh province, 2009. (Photo: IWPR)
    Voting in Balkh province, 2009. (Photo: IWPR)

Ahead of elections scheduled for 2014, IWPR is working with Afghanistan’s newest voters to encourage them to take part and make their voices heard.

As Hamed Karzai prepares to step down from the presidency, it is far from clear who will replace him. Many of the candidates are familiar faces, some of them prominent figures during past cycles of violence. That, plus the perception that previous elections have been unfair, and an insurgent campaign to persuade voters to boycott the polls, could deter many from coming out to take part in the presidential ballot as well as the provincial council elections taking place at the same time.

Since August 2013, IWPR has been working with young people aged 18 to 28 – students in particular – to provide them with a clearer picture of the electoral process and the importance of voting. The Open Minds: Speaking Up, Reaching Out initiative is funded by the United States embassy in Kabul.

“The project’s ultimate aim is to promote active participation by young Afghans in the upcoming presidential and provincial council elections,” IWPR Afghanistan country director Noorrahman Rahmani said.

As an initial step, he said, “we have conducted a series of journalism and critical skills training workshops for more than 100 students in the provinces. We have recruited 30 students from ten public universities who will help organise university-based discussions and debates as well as inter-university forums. Students from various faculties have been trained to produce radio and print pieces that will lead to a better public understanding of democratic governance and the electoral process.”

At the next stage, selected university lecturers will host a series of debates on key political and electoral issues, with the aim of dispelling popular misconceptions, raising awareness about extremist propaganda, and encouraging young Afghans to think for themselves, to use their votes, and to get involved as polling station workers or election observers.

About 2,000 students from all over Afghanistan are expected to participate in various project activities, and some will receive training in outreach and advocacy so that they can encourage others to use their votes, as well.

“I didn’t have a voting card allowing me to cast a ballot, but after attending a training workshop, I obtained one,” Abdul Raqib Nuri, a 21-year-old law student at Paktia University, said. “None of my classmates has a voting card. Before this workshop, I wasn’t interested in getting one, either.”

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.