Afghanistan Analysts Network – English

Political Landscape

Campaign trail (3): the candidates and their strategies

Martine van Bijlert 12 min

While half of the world is on holiday and the other half is going through the wiki-leaked documents or is wondering how to follow-up on the successes of the Kabul conference, the electoral campaign in Afghanistan is going ahead – at least in parts of the country. The cities are covered in posters and banners, the newspapers carry campaign ads and the candidates in the provinces are trying to find ways around the limitations posed by security and powerful rivals. Listen to what some of the candidates and voters say, when talking about the elections:

“I just resigned from my job to campaign. Because I don’t have money to invite people to gatherings, I meet them individually. I am travelling to the villages and meeting the elders. And I am sure the youth will support me. I haven’t printed any posters or banners yet because I can’t afford it, but I hope to find a businessman or a donor who has the same political views as me and who will finance my campaign. I will also contact some of the TV stations where I have friends and ask them to invite me for interviews. I have learned this during the workshops that I attended; they taught us to use any source to achieve our goals. But the economic mafia won’t support us, because they know that people like me won’t work for their interests. (…) The competition in Kabul is between 98 women candidates, including famous parliamentarians, it is a challenging competition especially for those, like me, who are young and who are running for the first time.”

Young female candidate from Kabul (not the one on the photo)

“I am a candidate in Kabul – not in my own province because I have not lived there for 20 years. I have the support of both my tribe and my party and I have 29 people campaigning for me. My program focuses on the rights of martyrs and disabled, the rights of refugees and IDPs, the rights of teachers and getting them insurance, telecommunication because many people complain that the mobile phone companies are stealing from them, the bombings by international forces, a fair distribution of scholarships among the groups and tribes, proper education requirements for senior officials, and the reinstatement of the old cadre that is sitting at home – they should be used because they are a force for good. (…) Many candidates only registered to see if they could make a deal; they bought the [copies of] voter cards that you need to register and they are now going around and offering to step down. I was called by one of the sitting MPs, he offered me $200,000 to step down in his favour, but I refused. It’s a lot of money, but he made so much more while he was an MP. (…) Karzai and his people are working to get at least 140 MPs elected that will listen to them, because this Parliament bothered him a lot. There are people who are making lists for him, they are making deals with candidates who promise to be loyal and they are giving them money, at least $60,000. One of the government people asked to see me a few times, but I have not responded yet. (…) In Kabul there are more than 600 candidates, so normally you should be able to get elected with around 3,000 votes. That I can get easily. But I am worried about the fraud.”
Kabul parliamentary candidate, originally from southwest Afghanistan

“My sister is a candidate in the nation-wide kuchi constituency. She has already started her campaign: she has travelled to the north and visited Balkh, Samangan, Sarepol, those places. Later this week she will probably go to Jalalabad. Many people are coming to our house, they are looking for someone to represent them. The voters are disappointed with the MPs that got into Parliament last time; they just took the money and did nothing. The tribe is behind my sister, the people are behind her and the government is also looking favourably on her. They are not supporting her directly, but they are not against her candidacy.”
Brother of a female kuchi candidate living in Kabul

“One of the MPs asked me to work for him. I understood it was because of the elections and because I am close to one of the religious leaders in my area. He wanted me to arrange the support of this leader and he wanted me to travel to the province to convince people to vote for him again. I told him I could not leave my family, so he told me he no longer needed my services. (…) When I was still with him I was present at some of the meetings. One day some elders came because their relatives had been detained and badly beaten. Two of the relatives had been sent to Pol-e Charkhi prison and they asked the MP to intervene. The MP told them he could get the prisoners released, but only if he was re-elected and that they should promise to vote for him. One of the elders promised, he said: “all of us will fill the boxes for you, even the Taliban will help.” Another day a villager came who had no money. Three of his sons were detained and he asked the MP for help. But he didn’t help him; without money or promises he doesn’t help. (…) There are other strategies as well: This MP encouraged ten people from other areas and other tribal groups to candidate themselves, so that the vote of his rivals would be split.”
Voter in Kabul, originally from southern Afghanistan

“Do you see that campaign poster? I know one of the relatives of that candidate. He told me that the candidate, who is a rich businessman, said that he will spend up to 3 million dollars, as long as he wins a seat in Parliament. Just imagine the amount of money you must be able to make as a Parliamentarian.”
Voter from Kabul

“I am a candidate in Kabul. My campaign has started — mainly in the districts, because the city is so crowded with candidates that it is like abuzkeshi field. It went well so far. I don’t have much money and I don’t have anyone promising that they will make me win, but many people said they would vote for me. I have learnt from watching the last two rounds of elections: When people promise me 1000 votes, I count it as a 100. People exaggerate and hope that you will promise them something in return, like building a school in their area. But for me every single vote is important. (…) I will register my candidate agents in the coming days, I already have the forms. Having observers is important, they can watch for fraud but they also represent votes. If they are your observer, they should also vote for you and encourage one or two others to do the same. So if you have 500 observers that could be 1500 extra votes. I will mainly send them to the areas where I have a lot of support; it is a waste of someone’s time to spend all day in a polling station where you get only 10 votes. (…) There will not be so much fraud in Kabul city, because there are too many candidates and observers. The worst will be Sorobi district, because of the security situation. It will be difficult to send observers there. So people can take the ballot boxes and stuff them, without anyone saying anything.”
Female Kabul candidate, originally from northern Afghanistan

“You need to have a lot of money to run for Parliament. Yesterday the going price was $10 per vote, but the price is already going up. In the provinces where there will be a lot of fraud, the candidates are watching each other. If one finds out that his rival has arranged 5,000 votes, he will try to get 6,000. When the first one finds out that the other is preparing for 6,000, he will raise his number as well. It will become more all the time.”
Politician from Kabul

“I can introduce you to some of the candidates, I know most of them, but I cannot vouch for them. They will probably not tell you the truth. You see, all the candidates are getting ready for fraud. Maybe one or two of the more interesting candidates will not participate in the fraud, but all the others are making the necessary preparations. The provincial council elections were still relatively okay, but I have no idea how we should analyse the next elections: they will probably be stuffing 1000 votes per box. Several of the candidates have made deals with the local Taliban who have agreed to help with the ballot stuffing. And in the areas where the Taliban has not agreed to help, there will be fighting. So there will be ballot stuffing there too, although not in the areas themselves. And the ECC has decided that they will try to make nobody upset this time around, so they will not say very much.”
Voter from Baghlan

“Every candidate has their own system of campaigning, one does it in this way, the other in that way. What my system is? I used to be a commander in a large private security company. I have a kind of a protocol with my former colleagues that they will vote for me. I think I can also make agreements with people in other security companies as well. Then there are many families in Kabul from my district. The other candidate from my district is very weak, so I am quite confident that I will get many votes from my tribe. All together I should be able to get enough votes to win a seat. My only concern is fraud; that others will buy votes or steal my votes. (…) I have handed out business cards with my picture and my details to everybody I know or meet. And I will be hanging big posters in the city, but not yet. I will wait until the end of the campaign, when the posters of others have been damaged or are no longer being noticed. Then I will put my posters up. I have an appointment at the studio later this afternoon to get my pictures taken. And I will have a page on Facebook. I will not do that myself but my friends will do it and they will write good things about me so that people will vote for me. (…) I know many foreigners, but those were work relations, not political relations. I don’t know how to be in touch with the political foreigners. I am trying to find out if anyone is supporting the candidates with money.”
Candidate in Kabul, originally from the Shomali

“The head of the IEC in my province recruited two people from my district as civic educators, one man and one woman. He told them that they don’t have to do anything, but that half their salary is his. So they earn half of $400 per month for three months for doing nothing. (…) During last year’s election I was the DFC (district field coordinator) in my district. A representative of one of the candidates brought a big bag of voter cards and wanted to use all of them to vote for his candidate, but I didn’t allow it. We worked with three people in my district. This year when we applied again, the provincial IEC head was changed and the new one told us he did not need us anymore. But it is our right. We worked very well and very cleanly. (…) One of my colleagues had to leave the district after the elections because the Taliban were threatening him, they detained his father and his brother and then he left. My other colleague also left, he is now in Kabul. He became afraid, because he is a head teacher. And I left the area a few years ago after the Taleban attack in my village. But still the three of us wanted to work in our district in the elections again.”
Former DFC (electoral district field coordinator) from southern Afghanistan

“There are 22 candidates in my district alone, including two big former commanders. Two or three of the candidates are not bad. The campaign manager of one of the commanders is also not a bad man. I know him from the past and he helped me a lot recently when I had problems with the security services. So when he asks me to come to the campaign meetings of the big commander I say “of course”. I will go with him later this week to the campaign meeting in the mosque. But my vote is mine, I will give it to whom I want.”
Voter from Paghman, Kabul province

“A former senior official wanted to run for Parliament in my province. When he heard I was running too he started putting pressure on me not to register, saying that he had decided to run first and that he had already told the people. I said that I was running anyway, whether I would win or lose. In the end he didn’t run, but he asked one of my friends to candidate himself. He did this so that my vote would be split. When he meets people whom he knows will vote for my friend anyway, he encourages them to vote for him, but in reality he is not really campaigning for him. He has another candidate and he is trying to make that other candidate win.”
Candidate in southern Afghanistan

“I have started my campaign but slowly, because I don’t have that much money. It will also be difficult to campaign during Ramazan. Most candidates are getting ready for fraud, especially those linked to the parties and those linked to the government. The independent candidates don’t have the links or the money. The neighbouring countries are also investing a lot, especially Iran and Pakistan; they want their people in Parliament. And the various Hazara leaders are all competing with each other to get their candidates elected.”
Candidate from the Hazarajat

“Yesterday five officials, who work in the provincial administration, came to our district and started campaigning for one of the candidates. They distributed posters and now they have gone to the villages. They are all from the same party and they want their candidate to win. But it is not allowed. Someone should phone their offices and ask why they are absent.”
Voter from Daikondi

“Several people have come to my house offering to pay for my transport and my campaign costs, on the condition that I would make them happy after I got elected. But my conscience doesn’t allow it. I would feel as if the whole world was watching and as if everyone knew what I had just done, if I did that. (…) It is true, in Afghanistan everything is for sale now, but who can blame the people. There is so much poverty and so much debt. And the ones who already have money… they are in love with their money, they will do anything to keep it and to gather more.”
Candidate in southern Afghanistan, living in Kabul

“You are probably aware that the Americans are also trying to decide who to support. One of the first things they want the Parliament to do is to sign a partnership agreement that will allow them to stay in Afghanistan for 55 more years.”
Parliamentary candidate in Kabul

“The Tajiks in Ghazni have no representative in Parliament or in the provincial council and it will be difficult for them to get voted in. The Pashtuns live in the insecure areas and can come by force, they simply fill the boxes. And the Hazaras can vote without fear, because their districts are safe. But the Tajiks in Ghazni vote with fear and don’t have the ability to do fraud. (..) I didn’t really want to be a candidate, but the people persuaded me and some boys gathered the voter cards for the registration. Most good people didn’t candidate themselves, they didn’t want to go through another embarrasment. Last time I was also a candidate, but the centres where I had received votes were quarantined. (…) It is clear that you need political support to win. I have considered going to one of the political leaders and asking for support, but I have no one to introduce me. And it also not clear if they will keep their promises or not. (…) One of the provincial council candidates who won during the last election still has 60,000 voter cards in his house. That means he can make ten people win, if he wants.”
Candidate from Ghazni

“Everbody knows this is not an election, but a selection process. The government people and the parties are all trying to get their people in place as district governors and police chiefs so they can do the fraud. In my district they will either get rid of the district governor who is not against me, or my rivals might pay the Taliban to disrupt the vote.”
Candidate from Uruzgan

“It’s difficult to campaign as a female candidate. The situation in Khost is really bad and people are not willing to rent out their houses as campaign offices. So I am calling my relatives and asking them to campaign discretely amongst the relatives and the villagers. It is impossible to organise gatherings. (…) I have told the people that I have no money to pay for their votes and that I have no material support to give, but that I would serve them honestly and that is it. I have no background of living or working in the province, but I think that the majority of people from my district will still vote for me. Many of them live in the provincial centre and they will be able to vote. Observers can observe the voting in the urban areas, but not in the rural areas – it will be impossible to have transparent election there. And of course there will be fraud among the female candidates as well. (…) People have lost trust in their votes. Some people told me “we will vote for you, but if frauds happens our votes may not help. (…) Money will play the main role in determining who win. I heard that two provincial council members paid bribes to the local election staff last year and won the race. I will probably spend around 300,000 afghani ($6,000) on my campaign and campaign costs (…) The candidate who has the best chances of winning in my province is an active person. He has links with the local militias.”
Female candidate from eastern Afghanistan

“During the last parliamentary election one of the female candidates called me on election day. She was crying. She said her rival had arranged 1200 votes in the most insecure district of the province, where even the Americans couldn’t go. She had been my classmate and I felt sorry for her, so I called my relative in another district and asked him to arrange 1700 votes for her. That is how she was elected. It was very easy. Another friend described to me later how in another district he and the police chief had sat around the table all day, filling in the forms and folding the ballot papers. He pressed me a lot to be a candidate this time, he said he would make me win, but I didn’t feel like it.”
Voter from southern Afghanistan

“We have three candidates running from the same tribe. People are trying to get us to join and to have only one candidate. I suggested that the tribe should decide, but the others wanted to draw lots. I think that is a bad idea, I want all the leaders to come together and decide. (…) I talked to the Taleban commander in my area about the elections, he is from my tribe. My rival in the area talked to his Taleban. Let’s see what happens.”
Candidate from southern Afghanistan


Democratization Elections Government


Martine van Bijlert

More from this author