July 19th, 2010
08:13 AM ET

Election campaigning in Afghanistan

Editor’s Note: Abbas Daiyar began his blog, Kabul Perspective, last year to look at issues in Kabul and around the world. He has worked with newspapers in Pakistan and reported for news agencies in the past and is now a member of the editorial board of the independent Daily Outlook Afghanistan newspaper in Kabul. The opinions expressed in this guest blog are solely those of Abbas Daiyar.

More than 2,500 candidates are running for the 249 seats of Afghanistan’s lower house of parliament, Wolesi Jirga, elections on September 18. About 400 women, mostly from Kabul and provincial capitals, are also in the race. The campaign is in full bloom in the capital Kabul. The streets are filled with signboards and posters of independent and party-nominated candidates. These posters mostly include slogans about change, poverty, security, development, illiteracy and promotion of justice. The posters and big boards look like resumes of the candidates, listing all their past experience and political background. The lists of their slogans are like whole manifestos.

Abbas Daiyar

A huge majority of the candidates are running independently. Party election culture is not common in Afghanistan. And recently, the Ministry of Justice announced new laws that the 110 registered political parties needed re-registration. The new requirements include that a party needs at least 10,000 members for it to be registered. Thus, most of the ghost parties with no office and supporters vanished. And many could not manage 10,000 members with ID cards to get the registration.

Election culture is new and interesting in Afghanistan. For the mass illiterate population, it’s difficult to choose 249 from among more than 2,500 candidates. In many cases, criteria for preferring a candidate over others ranges from tribal links to votes for sale.

For campaigning, means of communications are different. For common voters, general posters and signboards are used; while for specific people of an area, political background or religious sect, the same candidates use different posters. Politicians also request votes through tribal leaders and Mullahs (religious scholars). People have utmost respect for tribal elders and Mullahs and whomever they “suggest” to vote, people go for him. Most of the candidates in provinces prefer to persuade the tribal chief, and then the entire people of that clan or tribe will cast votes in his favor. In families, elders — mostly fathers — decide for whom to vote. In very conservative areas of the South and Southeast, lower numbers of women come to polling centers on election day. They have almost no role in the decision for whom to vote.

But it’s not just the illiterate population who follow the tribal method of votes. It’s a common phenomenon. For instance, a friend of mine who is a law student at the most prestigious institute of social sciences in Afghanistan — Katib Institute of Higher Education — campaigns for a candidate in Kabul nowadays. He told me how his tribe has decided to send three representatives in parliament from Kabul and six from two provinces of North. They have even counted down the votes and divided different clans to vote for those three candidates so that they get the required number of votes.

A candidate whom I met recently in a printing house had come from Bamyan province. Business is very good at printing houses nowadays. He was in Kabul to buy 200,000 Afghanis worth of cell phone cards for his “campaign workers” who will make phone calls during the campaign period. “Campaign workers” are activists who display posters, go to homes, organize and persuade the voters. Most of them are family members and volunteers from the tribe the candidate belongs. They sit in campaign offices of the candidates and have free lunch and dinners.

In some cases, family members living abroad come to Afghanistan to campaign. One of my friends — a student of international relations at Melbourne University — has come to Kabul to campaign for her uncle. Her father, the elder brother of the candidate, has come to persuade the tribal elders.

Candidates incur heavy expenses during the campaign period. (The campaign started on June 23 and will end on September 16, two days before the election.) Candidates spend huge amounts of money for posters, signboards and other expenses. Unlike the U.S. where candidates receive private financing through fundraising for campaign expenditures, in Afghanistan most of the candidates are on their own. Party nominees get an amount from their party offices and spend on posters and other expenses. During each campaign rally, candidates provide lunch or dinner to supporters. Due to all this, people from middle and lower classes can hardly run in elections.

I was talking to some students of Kabul University last week. They were confused with the huge number of candidates, saying it seems like a race for lottery. They don’t know who to vote for. One of them said, “Even there are candidates in our area whom I have heard about for the first time.” For illiterate people, it’s difficult to remember the election number and symbol of candidates allotted by the Election Commission. Most of the symbols look alike when they are printed on ballot papers. For instance a tree and a flower look similar on ballot paper and most voters get confused with that.

As September 18 gets nearer, the campaign is getting colorful. Already no space is left on junctions and walls of the streets of Kabul – they are already filled with posters and boards. The posters are even on the beautiful newly painted walls of private fancy buildings without prior permission of the owner. Influential candidates who have family members in the government use state resources and places for campaigning. Already the Election Commission of Afghanistan has warned some candidates in this regard. As per the Afghan Electoral Law, government officials, including governors, district heads and other office holders, can not support any candidate during the elections. But it’s common that government officials, including governors, request people to vote for specific candidates.

Election culture is new for the people of Afghanistan, and such practices will prevail for some time on the long journey to democracy in Afghanistan.

More from Abbas Daiyar at his blog Kabul Perspective

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Filed under: Afghanistan elections • Voices • Your View
soundoff (28 Responses)
  1. Larry Valecia, Calif.US Army Forever...

    We have to learn to respect each other if you ever want PEACE in this World!!!

    July 25, 2010 at 2:11 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Larry Valecia, Calif.US Army Forever...

    We are fighting the Drug People in both Afghanistan and Pakistan!!! They are losing a lot of money because of these wars...

    July 23, 2010 at 7:25 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Chris

    Why doesn't anyone ever talk about the way drug prohibition fuels this whole mess?
    Decriminalizing drug use is the single biggest (if not only) move we could make that
    would have a real impact on the Taliban, the mob, you name it. Everything could go back to normal.

    As long as that drug money is there nothing is going to work. Nothing. Ever.
    Because people are not going to stop getting high. Never. Ever.
    And there's only going to be more people. A lot more.

    I could go on and on, but you get the idea.

    July 20, 2010 at 9:37 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Cody

    This is great for the Afghan people! If they vote in corrupted individuals, its their own damn fault. They will eventually learn to read and who to vote for to root out corruption.

    July 20, 2010 at 4:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • Larry Valecia, Calif.US Army Forever...

      How do you expect to have a fair elections when the Enemy chop off the Fingers that would vote against them??? If you don't know they have to leave finger prints at the pull so that they can't vote more than once!!!

      July 23, 2010 at 7:24 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Larry Valecia, Calif.US Army Forever...

    Seeing you post makes me see you are right about those that post on here!!!

    July 20, 2010 at 3:22 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Larry Valecia, Calif.US Army Forever...

    The ones that are making all the money in this war is the Republicans, Bush's, Cheney and Big Business... It is the American People paying for it with Their Love ones and Their money!!! That is why we have to vote the Republicans out... So that the Americans can take back Their Country!!!

    July 20, 2010 at 11:22 am | Report abuse |
  7. Hazheer Hazara

    This election is going to be fair and transparent, and as mentioned, the candidates with strong economic and ethnic backgrounds will be elected BUT their presence in parliament will be a mere formality and they will not have their rightful authority and power. Therefore, whatever and whoever be it. The citizens would suffer the same histories they have been suffering. Nothing new for the poor citizens except for free lunches and dinners till 18th September. Cheers

    July 20, 2010 at 1:30 am | Report abuse |
    • Larry Valecia, Calif.US Army Forever...

      Unless we vote the Republicans out... We will keep going back wards instead of forward!!!

      July 20, 2010 at 11:23 am | Report abuse |
  8. mohammad ali bahrami

    Good post

    July 19, 2010 at 7:17 pm | Report abuse |
  9. ahmad

    It never matters who wins, all them puppets are controlled by foreigners any ways.

    July 19, 2010 at 12:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jamal

      Yea, All puppets, specially Pahstoon Nationalists... accepting any sort of slavery for the sake of their tribal interest!

      July 20, 2010 at 10:11 am | Report abuse |
    • Larry Valecia, Calif.US Army Forever...

      That is where you are wrong... The ones making all the money off the wars are the Republicans, Bush's, Cheney and Big Business!!! It is the Middle Class and Poor paying for it with Their blood and money!!!

      July 20, 2010 at 11:16 am | Report abuse |
  10. Agent Cody Banks CIA Operative

    This war seems at first like it's going to end soon but then you realize it has been going on for to long!

    July 19, 2010 at 11:52 am | Report abuse |
  11. yankee cowboy

    It's encouraging to see free elections in a formally subjugated country.

    July 19, 2010 at 11:21 am | Report abuse |
    • Jesse Cook

      As long as the C.I.A.pushes the buttons,you're right.

      July 19, 2010 at 12:01 pm | Report abuse |
  12. brian who

    why cant the g20 of the world build a million man army who can respond to anything that goes on in this world where a country requires cleansing instead of usa canada and few other countries being the old reliables lets build this world

    July 19, 2010 at 9:55 am | Report abuse |
    • FreeStyle

      Brian who.. funny guy
      Indeed usa, canada.. are the old reliables but in doing ethic cleansing.

      – hiroshima & nagazaki: 300,000
      – vietnam: more than 1 million civilians
      – iraq & afghanistan: more than 1 million civilians

      PS: i considered wars in which the US killed less than 250,000 as negligible.

      July 19, 2010 at 11:31 am | Report abuse |
      • Jerry

        Good post,FreeStyle.

        July 19, 2010 at 11:59 am | Report abuse |
      • mb

        what about the half a million native Indians killed to create US of A?

        July 19, 2010 at 2:13 pm | Report abuse |
      • Larry Valecia, Calif.US Army Forever...

        Better fighting the wars in Their Country than having to fight them in Ours!!!

        July 20, 2010 at 11:11 am | Report abuse |
    • Larry Valecia, Calif.US Army Forever...

      Because they have the UN and Nato that does nothing!!! That is why the United States has to fight to keep them from coming to the States and killing our People here!!!

      July 20, 2010 at 11:09 am | Report abuse |
      • Larry Valecia, Calif.US Army Forever...

        Either you People are Muslin are just plain stupid??? I haven't figured that out yet!!!

        July 20, 2010 at 11:13 am | Report abuse |

        Good grief,Larry,where do you get that right-wing mumbo-jumbo from???

        July 20, 2010 at 5:38 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Jerry

    Does it really matter who wins?I guess not as long as NATO pulls the strings!

    July 19, 2010 at 9:49 am | Report abuse |
    • Bobby


      July 19, 2010 at 2:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • Larry Valecia, Calif.US Army Forever...

      Yes it does make a difference who wins... Because other wise we will have Our People dieing in this Country rather than fighting over there!!! How easy People like you forget 9/11...

      July 20, 2010 at 11:07 am | Report abuse |