Following Tuesday’s announcement of the preliminary list of Presidential candidates, which saw the field narrow from 26 to just 10, the Free and Fair Election Foundation of Afghanistan (FEFA) asked the contenders to roll out their platforms and explain their policy plans to the public.
Although the official Presidential campaigning period designated by the Election Law doesn’t begin until February, members of the election activist group encouraged candidates to begin familiarizing the public with who they are and what their programs would be as President.
“We ask the Presidential candidates to define their programs to the people,” said Nader Naderi, the head of FEFA. “Although the election campaign has been designated in the Election law, it would be good if the Presidential candidates begin defining their programs now so that people know of their plans to solve the current challenges.”
Naderi advocated the presentation of platforms for more than just the benefit of the candidates themselves, however. The FEFA head had his sight fixed on progress for the broader election culture in Afghanistan.
“Afghanistan needs to move on from individualism to focusing more on programs of Presidential candidates,” he said. “For the sake of saving Afghanistan and having sound leadership, Presidential candidates need to start a clear discussion regarding their programs and their view for Afghanistan’s future.”
The policy issues candidates have to choose from are numerous, as the challenges facing Afghanistan are many. But for civil society activists the most important thing is that candidates focus on the issues themselves, and convince people of the strength of their plans to address them.
“There are demands that the people of Afghanistan have today, whether its regarding security, work, poverty, addiction, violence and violation of human rights, immigration or any of the current challenges, and if there are no solutions to these problems, and the government in the next five years is unable to solve the least of the peoples’ problems, then it is doubtful they can answer the demands of the people of Afghanistan,” said Ajmal Balochzada, an Afghan civil society activist.
Traditionally, most experts have cited ethnicity, native region and language as the primary metrics by which voters weigh their support for candidates in Afghan elections. However, Balochzada maintained that for many Afghans, especially the young generation that makes up an overwhelming part of the population, these factors are no longer the primary criteria by which they judge candidates.
“This time elections will be different; people won’t favor areas and ethnicities, votes will not be given to individuals and just boxes, but to the programs and plans,” he said. “This is a very clear issue now and people, especially the youth, know how to use their votes.”
A shift from identity politics to substantive policy politics would be a development in Afghan democracy that most would applaud. But whether this change has actually begun to occur is difficult to know. How significantly candidates for the April election focus on distilling and publicizing their policy platforms could provide a good indicator one way or the other.