Almost one fifth of the candidates running for Kabul in the upcoming parliamentary election are young, between 25 (the minimum age required by the law to run) and 35 years old. The proportion of young candidates varies, but provinces with big urban centres like Balkh, Nangrahar and Herat tend to have more. Some of these young Afghans appear to be genuine idealists. Others just seem to be using the election to promote themselves for personal ambition. AAN political researcher Gran Hewad has met dozens of these young men and women and has been looking at their political agendas.
The young candidates come from different backgrounds: sportsmen and women, including the elected head of the body building federation and owners of gyms; also musicians, journalists, university lecturers, founders of youth associations and members of spiritual or conservative families. One special category should be mentioned – the close relatives of the famous or powerful. The next generation of the elite, it seems, is emerging. They include Nabi Khalili, the brother of the Second Vice President, Abdul Karim Khalili; Farkhunda Zahra Naderi, a daughter of Sayyed Mansur Naderi, the famous Ismaili commander and MP (he also has two sons and a nephew running; the boys are all more than 35 years old); Sher Wali Wardak, brother of the Minister of Education, Faruq Wardak; and Almas Bawar Zakhilwal, brother of the Minister of Finance, Omar Zakhiwal.
Then there are the candidates who just want to appear young: quite a few aged men with dyed beards and aged women with lots of make-up make themselves to appear younger on campaign banners and posters.
When it comes to the young candidates’ political ideas and perceptions, many present themselves as messengers of good news, trying to create a motivation amongst the young generation to fill what they perceive as a future leadership gap. In order to fill this gap, they are working on building youth networks across the country and establishing interest groups to achieve particular social or cultural goals locally. As one of them put it:
“I am the founder of a youth association which has a well connected network of young men and women across the country. This network could be an asset for the future of Afghan youth. We work in groups in every province for the same political and social goals, for example: we will observe the election and make social gatherings for the future.”
The political substance of these networks – their aims and interests – appear vague. Still, groups of young people organising to observe the election and making social gatherings is something new in Afghanistan.
Most young candidates do not strongly define themselves as proponents of any political group or trend, but emphasise that a change from the failed elites to fresh personalities is required in the longer term. “Being a candidate is a good way to start working with people for my future efforts and goals,” said one, sounding like he just wanted to use the election as a vehicle for his personal ambitions.
A small number of these candidates view this election as a stepping stone to further political ambitions, whether it is establishing a political party or running in the next presidential election. “I am 30 and will establish a political party soon and as a mid-term goal I am going to nominate myself for the coming presidential election.” Asked how he would achieve this when he would not be constitutionally allowed to run as a presidential contender for another ten years, he said, “I am not sure whether the system will remain the same for the next ten years or not, but the situation shows that the government and this system might not hold so long.” He could not say what would be distinctive about his party, indeed whether it would have a particular ideology or aims at all.
This is hardly surprising. Most of the young candidates do not trust political parties and will not join them. Another one declared: “I haven’t been member of a political party in the past and won’t be in the future, I hate them a lot.”
There were some vague political notions among some of the young people as to what they were against. One candidate told AAN:
“I will encourage the youth and Kabul people not to vote for the warlords who destroyed Kabul city, nor for those drug lords who are currently misleading the establishment and would like to capture the parliament.”
Instead of ideology, like most of the candidates, the young are working their multiple networks in the hope of getting enough votes to win. The candidates AAN spoke to all expect to receive the votes of students, as well as whatever class of society they are related to – their own tribes, social or religious group or simply from the residents of respective home areas. Some described their lack of experience in establishing networks amongst the tribal elders. It is difficult – they want to have the tribal elders’ support in public, but at the same time to be independent and free of what they perceive as their ‘illogical’ tribal orders.
The majority of young candidates – unless they are the relatives of bankers, owners of private construction and security companies or high-ranking officials – suffer from a lack of a proper campaign budget. “It’s not fair to mention this or to complain,” one candidate said, shame-facedly, “but it is a fact that I do not have much money to organise gatherings or feed people who come to see me. In contrast, the owner of a construction company, I heard, has accumulated 800,000 US dollar for his campaign expenses.”
However, there are other challenges than just money and dealing with elders. As one of them explains:
“I and many other young candidates are running against the warlords and their relatives who are able to make certain areas insecure, to control them on polling day and fill the ballot boxes for themselves. They have already prevented my campaigners to paste my posters in my village.”
Whether young or old, the same challenges apply: finding money, getting security and activating networks.