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Afghanistan polls: Can young candidates turn things around?

Waslat Hasrat-Nazimi
October 16, 2018

For decades, powerful warlords and tribal elders have dominated Afghanistan's political landscape. But a record number of young Afghans are aiming to break their monopoly in the upcoming parliamentary elections.

A man walks past campaign posters in Kabul
Image: Reuters/O. Sobhani

Most Afghans have little faith in the political process, as the country's politicians have not delivered much to the masses in the past decades.

Some hoped the situation would improve after the US-led military coalition ousted the Islamist Taliban regime in 2001. But traditional politicians, who had been in power prior to Taliban rule, regrouped and recaptured power once the democratic setup was restored in the war-torn country.

As Afghanistan heads toward parliamentary elections on October 20, many Afghans remain skeptical that their next parliamentarians will be any different from the outgoing lawmakers.

A number of candidates running in the polls have the backing of powerful warlords, who, for decades, have used violence to increase their political clout.

But there is a silver lining: many young and educated candidates are also running this time around. These include entrepreneurs, journalists, teachers and former government employees.

Many Afghans believe that these young people can challenge established politicians and the status quo.

Read more: Afghanistan election faces major organizational challenges

Giving a voice to Afghan women

Overcoming barriers

"We don't have exact numbers, but according to an estimate, at least 60 to 65 percent of candidates running in the October 20 polls are below the age of 40," Zabi Sadat, a deputy spokesperson for Afghanistan's Independent Election Commission, told DW.

The number of women candidates is still quite low — 417 out of 2,565 candidates. Women's participation in the democratic process has not increased much since the 2010 elections.

Out of 249 seats in parliament, 68 seats are reserved for women.

"The incumbent legislators have not lived up to the expectations of the Afghan people," Muqadasa Ahmadzai, a women rights campaigner from the eastern Nangarhar province, told DW.

Javid Faisal
Javid Faisal worked as a spokesperson for Afghanistan's chief executive officer, Abdullah AbdullahImage: Privat

Ahmadzai is hopeful that young voters in her country will not vote for "corrupt politicians" in the upcoming polls.

"I have been working with the Afghan people and I know they support me. That's the reason why I have decided to run for parliament," she said. "Of course, I had to overcome many social and cultural barriers," she added.

Running for the election is one thing and campaigning is another. In Afghanistan, it is not easy for a young woman to publicly canvass. But Ahmadzai continues to travel to different villages and towns to win over the voters.

Read more: Without voting rights, Afghan refugees face political alienation 

An alternative to warlords

Samiullah Mahdi, a former journalist, believes it is high time the young generation in Afghanistan takes a lead in political affairs and turns things around.

"Afghanistan is at a crossroads where it faces a battle between the past and the future," Mahdi told DW.

As a reporter, Mahdi interviewed many Afghan politicians and covered their debates extensively. He believes that this professional experience will help him if he wins in his constituency.

"Afghanistan's young generation has played an important role in media development, and I believe that if the young people get a chance, they can also transform the country's political institutions," Mahdi said.

In his TV ad, Mahdi urges Afghan citizens to vote for change.

Facebook screen shot of candidates in the 2018 parliamentary election
Some candidates running in the election are either the children or other relatives of powerful Afghan warlordsImage: Facebook/F. Rahimi

There are many other young candidates like Mahdi. Javid Faisal worked as a spokesperson for Afghanistan's Chief Executive Officer Abdullah Abdullah. But he left his job to participate in the election.

"I made the decision to leave my job because I think my home province, Kandahar, needs a better representation in parliament," Faisal said.

"We need to utilize the young people's energy, loyalty and strength to make Afghanistan a better place," he added.

Read more: Deadly blast hits female candidate's rally in Afghanistan

Candidacy for survival in Afghanistan

Waslat Hasrat-Nazimi
Waslat Hasrat-Nazimi Head of DW Dari/Pashto@washasnaz