Political Landscape

Campaign Trail (4): Candidates and Campaigning


At a time when two candidates for parliamentary elections have been killed, three kidnapped, at least ten issued with death threats and 48 excluded from the final list, the surviving candidates are campaigning hard. This is often a multi-goal struggle: to become a representative of the people, to get publicized via their candidacy, to be posting banners and posters on the walls, to pursue competition between cousins, to be seen on TV, to follow up a family tradition and respect their fathers’ souls and so on and so forth. AAN is interviewing candidates – about three dozen so far – from across the country and our political researcher, Gran Hewad, has been getting his teeth into their various campaign strategies.

The duties of a candidate hoping to win the ballot are multitudinous: holding gatherings, meeting individuals, receiving tribal leaders’ approval, feeding people, furnishing and building mosques, sending out cars covered in posters to roam around the city playing slogans recorded on tape, distributing business cards and brochures among the voters, releasing short clips on TV channels, attending sport and other social events and even adding, what one candidate described as, “tribal number plates” to one’s name in banners and posters, news papers and Facebook and other web sites. The candidate explained: “I’ve added Wardak to the end of my name to attract the Wardaki voters,” (he is from that province).
Most candidates interviewed by AAN have described just how many requests they get from voters: for money, gifts or donations to build or furnish mosques, in exchange for promises to vote are typical. Some have also said they doubt whether such promises will be honoured, as one candidate from Kabul explained:

“My supporters called and asked me that there is a candidate who will distribute among us 1,000 bags of 50kg flour as a gift. Should we receipt this gift from him or no? I told them take the flour but vote for me.”

There are many candidates very pessimistic about getting the winning votes. Nevertheless, they are still trying to portray themselves as active candidates. A couple admitted that their competitors would win, but still they are trying. A woman candidate form Khost told AAN:

“I cannot campaign in Khost. It is hard. The security situation is really bad for women to campaign. Only one female candidate is campaigning there and she might have her links with the insurgents. There is only one seat for women and she will fill it.”

A candidate from Kabul described the difficulties in the capital:

“There are 6,000,000 voters across Kabul and 636 candidates. Twenty of these candidates are popular persons who will win. Nine out of the remaining fourteen seats will go to women. That means that 607 candidates will be competing for five seats which of course will be very hard to win, and I am not one of those five candidates.”

The majority of the candidates anticipate fraud and the use of bribes. The presence of so many relatives of VIPs in government and rich people turned candidates, the brothers of ministers and deputy ministers, sons of governors, owners of big construction companies and banks decrease the trust of normal candidates and voters in the electoral process. Candidates are especially concerned about the fraud which could happen in the tally centres where votes will be counted. Some candidates say that those opponents who have relations with officials or are supported by private banks have been taunting them, boasting in public that their victory is guaranteed.

It has all created an atmosphere of distrust, especially in the southern and western provinces. It is not just that the public thinks the election will not be transparent so their votes are meaningless anyway, but that the candidates themselves are clearly investing in exploring ever new ways to defraud the voters. A candidate from Nimroz told AAN that:

“The main way that the majority of candidates in this province believe they can win is, not by campaigning, but by fraud.”

Nevertheless, the candidates are eager to portray themselves as independent and real leaders. For example, they prepare long list of action plans and goals to accomplish, which actually often contain tasks that are the prerogative of executive power, something that shows how unqualified they are.

In the southern provinces, it is difficult to organize gatherings or electoral campaigns. This is especially the case for women who have to rely on working through relatives via hidden women’s networks. At the same time, there are also famous women candidates who happily show their faces in public who are only putting their name, number and electoral logo of the ballot paper – not their pictures – or on their posters and banners. It appears they believe they are so well known that this will be enough to secure them victory.

As to the candidates’ faith in the electoral commission, one candidate from Kabul urged a diminution of hopes in it.

“If the election commission says that the process will be ten thousand per cent clean, I would argue that it will not be clear more than 20 per cent.”

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Thematic Category: Political Landscape