Afghanistan election: How to campaign in a war zone
Parliamentary candidates in the Afghanistan election to be held Saturday say the only way to campaign safely is by telephone.
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Analysts expect that insurgents will again launch a surge of attacks around polling day, lowering turnout particularly in the south and east. The attacks are a reminder of the insurgency's reach, but are unlikely to shut down the election.
Recent decisions by the country’s election commission to not open more than 1,000 polling stations due to poor security will also affect some candidates like Roshanak Wardak.
A member of Parliament from Wardak province, she says four closed polling centers are in her key districts. And in many areas that still have polling centers, her voters tell her – by phone – that they are afraid to go to the polls.
“If my voters cannot go to the polling stations, how do we expect this election will be fair?” asks Ms. Wardak by phone. “It will be the same as the presidential elections … everyone will try to fill the ballot boxes.”
Fraud and intimidation
She alleges that provincial leaders including the governor have already selected a slate of candidates to win – and her name is not on it.
“If there is no fraud and people could go to the polls, some [other] candidates they have a good chance for success,” she says. But she’s not counting on either.
But the insecurity she faces isn’t from the Taliban, but from provincial government leaders including President Hamid Karzai’s half-brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai. Last year, Ms. Zai came out in support of President Karzai’s opponent, Abdullah Abdullah.
She says that during the presidential election, President Karzai’s supporters stuffed so many ballots into boxes they had to push them down with their feet. This time around, she calculated that Karzai’s political machine would use fraud again to make sure she would not win.
“If I get a lot of votes from my own districts, they are going to quarantine these ballot boxes,” she says.
What it means for Kabul
Zai says she is counting on the votes of large numbers of people who have moved from Kandahar to Kabul because of the bad governance there. Analysts say that insecurity in the provinces has brought many newcomers to Kabul, and some candidates like Zai have followed them.
She spent her final campaign day in the Pashtun farming village of Chaso, a half hour outside Kabul city. Some 50 men crammed into a room to listen while volunteers handed out melon slices and brochures with her biography. Her pitch: accessibility once elected.
“My secretary doesn’t answer my phone, I answer the phone myself,” she told the crowd. “Today if you vote for me, tomorrow I will be your servant.”
In response, a member of the audience said, “Before you, nobody came and asked us about our problems.”
Such face-to-face politicking is possible within the security bubble of Kabul.
“You have two narratives going on in Afghanistan. You have elections in Kabul and elections in the rest of the country,” says Janan Mosazai, a young candidate in Kabul.
He has campaigned longer than many established figures and claims he has met some 12,000 people.
“The campaigning I can do in Kabul I wouldn’t be able to do 10 percent [elsewhere] because of the lack of security,” he says.