Political Landscape

The 2018 Election Observed (7) in Daikundi: The outstanding role of women


An Afghan women voter after casting her vote at polling centre in Daikundi. Photo: Ehsan Qaane, 2018.

An Afghan women voter after casting her vote at polling centre in Daikundi. Photo: Ehsan Qaane, 2018.

Like other provinces, the 2018 parliamentary election in Daikundi faced some technical, logistical and security challenges, but compared to other places these problems were limited. As a result, both the process and the outcome of the election have been largely uncontested. Women participation, both during voter registration and polling, was high: more women registered and voted in the province than men. Women also won half of the province’s parliamentary seats: two out of four. Political parties didn’t fare as well. Whereas in the last parliamentary elections all four seats were taken by political party candidates, in this election there were just two. AAN’s Ehsan Qaane, who was in Daikundi on election day, looks into the background of the province’s vote and tells us how the 2018 parliamentary election went.

Turnout: high level of women participation

Daikundi was named by the IEC as one of four provinces with the highest turnout (the other three were Kabul, Herat and Nangarhar, see here). Based on the final results, a total of 134,695 votes were cast, out of a total of 166,942 registered voters, which meant that around 80 per cent of the people who registered turned up to vote on election day. The turnout, in absolute numbers, was lower than in the 2014 and 2010 elections, when respectively 171,842 and 150,256 voters cast their votes. Because we were not able to find any reliable sources about the decrease or increase of the population in Daikundi between these three elections, it is difficult to draw a nexus between the reduction in turnout and the population status.

Although the results did not provide information about the voters based on their gender, Aziz Ahmad Rasuli, the IEC’s head of office in Daikundi, told AAN on 16 December 2018 that 53 per cent of the voters had been women. According to the voters’ list, also more than half of the 166,942 people who registered were women: 91,408 women against 75,467 men. The higher level of female registration was also reflected in the number of polling stations that had been planned: 306 for women and 288 for men. According to the chairperson of the IEC, Abdul Badi Sayad, Daikundi and Jawzjan had the highest percentage of female participation in the country. 

The higher number of registered women, compared to men, was found in all districts of Daikundi, including the relatively insecure districts of Pato and Kijran (see table below). 

Number of registered voters by district
Total
WomenMen
% female
% male
Miramur28,33416,06612,25856.7%43.3%
Shahristan26,88014,00112,86852.1%47.9%
Kiti20,54012,7257,80962.0%38.0%
Nili17,8679,5388,32553.4%46.6%
Ashtarlai17,0888,9768,10252.5%47.5%
Khedir16,6688,7927,87052.7%47.3%
Sangtakht16,3468,4267,91451.5%48.5%
Kijran12,3576,9555,37956.5%43.5%
Pato10,8625,9184,94254.5%45.5%

In the 2010 parliamentary election, numbers had been the other way around, with more men voting than women (82,748 men, compared to 67,365 women). Between the two elections the number of women voting rose a little (from 67,365 to 71,388), while the number of men voting decreased considerably (from 82,748 to 63,306). 

The Central Statistics Office (CSO) estimated the total population of Daikundi to be 498,840 at the beginning of 2018, 242,814 women (49 per cent) and 256,026 men (51 per cent). 

Possible reasons for the high level of women’s participation

Since 2001, female participation has been relatively high in Daikundi, not only in the elections, but also in education and other types of outside-the-home work. Women are generally accepted not only as voters, but also as public figures, governmental authorities and employees. The current mayor of Nili, Khadija Ahmadi, is a woman. She was appointed in August 2018. Before her, from 2008 to 2015, Uzra Jafari served as the first female mayor in the history of Afghanistan. In addition, Daikundi is the second province, after Bamyan, to be governed by a female provincial governor: Masuma Muradi served in this position from June 2015 to October 2017. 

The decrease in the number of men voting is probably linked to an increase in economic migration, with men moving in and out of the province for economic purposes. 2018 was a difficult year in terms of the local economy. The main sources of income in Daikundi –  farming and foreign labour in Iran – both suffered, respectively due to droughts and the US sanctions on Iran. Shopkeepers said that this year farmers only harvested a very small amount of almonds, which are the leading cash crop. In October 2018, which is the season for almonds, it was hard to find any in the local markets. The author, himself, only found a small amount after searching both Nili and Jawuz markets. Most families in Daikundi also depend on remittances from family members working in Iran. However, the US sanctions on Iran have caused the Iranian currency to lose value against other currencies, including the Afghani, which means that the amount of money sent home does not go as far, and does not cover expenses. 

This has caused more men to leave their homes in search of jobs in other areas. The author met a young man at a local hotel in Nili whose story illustrates the effects of these economic dynamics on voting: Ali Nazari said that he, his father and one of his uncles, had all left their home district of Shahristan in the last year to seek work to add to the family income. His father and uncle sought coal-mining jobs in Samangan and he himself came to Nili to work in the hotel. He said he had registered at the Palich polling centre but now that he was no longer present in the district, he could not change his voting location, nor could he go to Palich due to his work commitments in Nili. (According to the new election law, voters could only cast their votes in the polling centre where they had registered; for more analysis read AAN’s dispatch here). His father and uncle did not manage to register at all, due to insecurity on the route between Samangan and Daikundi.

Although Daikundi itself is largely secure, the roads that connect the province to Kabul, Mazar, Kandahar and Herat are not, which indirectly contributed to decreased voter registration, and ultimately to fewer male voters. Locals shopkeepers said that during the registration process, rumours had spread that the Taleban were checking passengers’ tazkira (national ID) and punishing those who had registered for the election. Most shopkeepers need to travel to Kabul to buy supplies for their shops, and many of them did not register out of fear of Taleban checks. Other people who frequently travel in and out of Daikundi are school or university students. The author interviewed a 20-year-old boy, Ahmad, while he left Sang-e Mum polling centre in Nili together with his elderly father. Ahmad told the author that he had not registered – and thus had not voted – because he frequently travelled between Daikundi and Kabul where he was enrolled in pre-university courses.

The winners and reasons why they won

According to the final results, 41 candidates ran for the 2018 election, including eight women and eight political party representatives. (One candidate, Habibullah Radmanesh, former deputy governor of Daikundi, abdicated on 3 October 2018 and was appointed deputy governor of Ghor on 6 October 2018. He was not included in the final count, even though his name still appeared on the ballot papers.) The election was won by Rayhana Azad, Shirin Mohsini, Sayed Muhammad Daud Nasiri and Ali Akbar Jamshedi.

Daikundi has four seats in the lower house of Parliament (wolesi jirga). Based on the constitutionally mandated quota system, at least 25 per cent of seats of each province should be held by women, which in the case of Daikundi would be one seat. However, following the 2018 elections, Daikundi will have two female MPs: Rayhana Azad and Shirin Mohsini. Both received a high number of votes and were elected on the strength of their votes. 

The four winners are generally less well-educated than most of the other candidates, but they are well-known in Daikundi, each having had at least one term in the lower or upper houses of Parliament and strong political support from Kabul. The background of the four winning candidates is as follows:

  • Sayed Muhammad Daud Nasiri is from Kijran district of Daikundi. He came in first with 13,055 votes (a little under 10% of the total number of votes). In the 2010 parliamentary election he came fifth, and so was not given a seat in the Parliament (given that Daikundi has four seats). However, when one of the elected MPs, Muhammad Nur Akbari, resigned to join Qayum Karzai, Hamed Karzai’s brother, as his second running mate for the 2014 presidential election, Sayed Daud became his replacement in the Wolesi Jirga. Prior to this, Sayed Daud was a senator from Daikundi from 2006 to 2010. He is not an educated man, but he is rich and owns land in Daikundi and Kandahar. He is a member of the Mahaz-e Melli political party, led by Sayed Hamed Gailani. Although he ran as an independent candidate, he had the strong support of the Gailani family. His elder brother, Sayed Muhammad Sadat Nasiri, was deputy governor of Daikundi during the election (he resigned on 15 January 2019). Sayed Daud’s brother-in-law, Sayed Taher Etemadi, is the district governor of Pato, the newly-established district of Daikundi. Some sources AAN talked with believe that Said Daud’s brother used his influence and power in favour of Said Daud. He did not benefit from his brother-in-law’s position, as their relationship is not good.
  • Rayhana Azad is from Shahristan district of Daikundi. She came in second with 12,689 votes. During the 2009 presidential election, she campaigned for President Karzai. In the 2010 parliamentary election, she was elected as the only female MP from Uruzgan for the Wolesi Jirga. Though she is not a member of any political party, she has strong links with many powerful politicians in Kabul. In public campaign speeches, Rayhana Azad reportedly said that her election bid was supported by the first lady, Rula Ghani. [Amended 28 Jan 2019: AAN was told this by two sources independent of each, including Daikundi provincial council member Sohrab Etemadi and another candidate who has asked to not be named. This claim, however, was rejected by Azad.”]
  • Ali Akbar Jamshedi is from Sangtakht district of Daikundi. He came in third with 10,490 votes. Jamshidi is a member of Hezb-e Wahdat-e Islami Afghanistan, led by Abdul Karim Khalili, the chairperson of the High Peace Council and former Second-Vice President of the former President, Hamid Karzai. Jamshedi was a senator from Daikundi from 2010 to 2015. Before being a senator, he worked with the Ministry of Education. In this capacity, he promoted education in Daikundi, especially in his district, by building schools. 
  • Shirin Muhsini is from Shahristan district of Daikundi. She came in (a very close) fourth with 10,480 votes. She is a member of Hezb-e Islami Mardom-e Afghanistan, led by Haji Muhammad Muhaqiq, the second deputy of the Chief Executive, Abdullah Abdullah. Her husband, Aref Hussain Dawari, is a known local jihadi commander who still plays a strong role in his province and who actively campaigned for her. In the 2010 election, Muhsini was elected as the only female MP from Daikundi.

The winners competed with candidates who had more formal education and more experience working in national and international institutions outside the province. (Almost 70 per cent of the candidates had at least one bachelor decree.) But the candidates who won, according to people AAN interviewed, had strong political support, both on the ground and in Kabul, money and, more importantly, skills to effectively approach “ordinary people.” Several people told AAN that the educated candidates were new to the voters and did not know the needs of ordinary people or how to speak to them to gain their trust. Rahmat Shariati, a lecturer at the only university in Daikundi (the private Naser Khosraw University; its owner, Abdul Karim Sorush, with a PhD decree, was also a candidate), said that for most of people in Daikundi a good candidate was someone who could help them work their issues through the Afghan bureaucratic system (by, for instance, helping them to secure a medical visa to Pakistan, Iran or India). The new and educated candidates neither had the skills nor the networks to convince voters that they could help them with their daily problems, said Shariati. He added, “Instead, their mottos were about legal and structural reforms of the government. Of course people also want a good government, but their daily problems are more important.” Sharif Ashrafi, a civil society activist in Nili, made the same point. He said that winning candidate Daud Nasiri had helped locals in Kabul with small demands, such as their passport applications or by paying for the accommodation of university students from Daikundi. He said “Sayed Daud is not an educated man, but he knows how to behave with ordinary people.”

The winners also all had earlier experience of campaigning, which gave them an upper hand over the new candidates who did not have such experience. Unsuccessful candidate Hussain Nusrat, who has a Masters degree in International Relations and who worked with the United Nations Assistance Mission for Afghanistan (UNAMA) and the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC), told AAN, “One of the reasons I failed was because I lacked experience in campaigning. Even my [election] observers reported to other candidates who had stronger campaign teams than me.”

Two female winners: Female candidates face-off

As mentioned before, two of Daikundi’s four seats in the Wolesi Jirga will go to women: Rayhana Azad and Shirin Muhsini. Both received a high number of votes, coming in second and fourth, in the popular vote count. 

Eight out of the 41 candidates were women: Amina Alemizada (who received 7,240 votes), Fatema Akbari (who received 3,702 votes), Masuma Amiri (who received 1,274 votes), Rana Kamel (who received 622 vote), Zahra Sorush (who received 124 votes), Benazir Sedaqat (who received 48 votes) and Shirin Muhsini and Rayhana Azad. Except for Azad and Muhsini, the other female candidates were relatively young and unknown, although some of them still received a relatively high number of votes.

Rayhana Azad and Sherin Muhsini were positioned as political competitors, standing for different directions and constituencies. Although Azad told AAN on 21 October 2018 that she had mainly competed against the male candidates, locals said that in reality, her main competition had been Muhsini, since both of them wanted to win the female seat. Azad had more educated and typically younger voters support as she stood for progressive values, such as human rights and the rule of law, locals said. For instance, Gul Jan Hujati, the head of Shuhada Organisation in Daikundi, told AAN on 19 October 2018, “The competition between Rayhana and Shirin is a competition between the pen and the gun.” By “gun” she was referring to Muhsini’s husband, Aref Husain Dawari, a leader of an armed group in Daikundi that was known for its brutality. By “pen” she was referring to the promise of rule of law in Daikundi and modes of governance advocated more by the young generation. 

Notwithstanding her appeal to younger voters, during the campaign Azad targeted both the younger and older generations. According to Sohrab Ettemadi, a member of the Daikundi provincial council, Rayhana’s campaigners went door to door and distributed scarfs, clothes and volumes of the holy Quran to the female voters in the household. AAN also heard this from some shopkeepers in Nili, and from Hussain Nusrat, another parliamentary candidate from Daikundi. Nusrat said that where in previous elections, candidates had distributed a lungi (turban) to male voters, this time, packages with female scarfs and the holy Quran were distributed to female voters. Azad confirmed that she had campaigned door-to-door, but rejected that she had distributed of scarfs, clothes and the holy Quran. Distribution of money and gifts, with the purpose of buying votes, is defined as an electoral crime (Art 99 of the election law).

Political parties lost two seats: Changes in political party representation

Every Hazara-Jehadi political party, except Hezb-e Harakat-e Islami Afghanistan, (1) fielded at least one candidate in Daikundi. Haji Muhammad Muhaqeq’s political party (Hezb-e Wahdat-e Islami Mardom-e Afghanistan) had the highest number with four candidates: Shirin Muhsini, Abdul Basir Muwahedi, Ghulam Husain Joya and Al Hajj Muhammad Zaher Qulagzada. From his party, only Muhsini managed to win a seat. Two candidates, Ali Akbar Jamshedi and Amina Alemizada, were from Muhammad Karim Khalili’s party (Hezb-e Wahdat-e Islami Afghanistan). Jamshedi is on the final list. Amina Alemizada failed, though she secured 7,240 votes, which put her among the top eight candidates on the general list and third among the female candidates. Khalili and Muhaqiq’s parties, the two main Hazara political parties, (2) each managed to secure one of the four seats, as they had in the 2010 parliamentary elections (respectively Shirin Muhsini from Muhaqeq’s party and Asadullah Sa’adati from Khalili’s party).

This time, the Daikundi candidates backed by Hezb-e Ensejam-e Melli (led by Sadeq Mudaber, the head of the administrative office for former president Hamed Karzai) and Hezb-e Herasat-e Islami (led by Muhammad Akbari) were not elected. Each of these parties had one MP in parliament after the 2010 election: Nasrullah Sadiqizada Nili from Akbari’s party and Muhammad Nur Akbari from Mudaber’s party. Both ran this time again, but came in fifth and sixth, respectively (Muhammad Nur Akbari with 8,785 votes and Nasrullah Sadeqizada Nili with 8,234 votes). Sadiqizada Nili told AAN on 30 December 2018 that he accepted the preliminary results and had not registered any complaints.

The failure of Hezb-e Herasat to secure a seat in Daikundi was a hot discussion among many Hazaras, not only in Daikundi but also in Kabul. The party’s leader, Muhammad Akbari, had run for Parliament himself from Bamyan, where he had also not been elected. Akbari’s party is the successor of Pasdaran-e Jehad-e Islami-ye Afghanistan (also known as Sepah-e Pasdaran), a political-military group established in 1984 by Muhammad Akbari and Muhammad Husain Sadiqi Nili (father of Nasrullah Sadiqizada Nili). In the era of mujahedin fighting against the Soviet-backed communist regime, this group was the most influential one in Daikundi. It had also played a major role in the violent internal Hazara-Shia conflict at that time. This, together with Akbari’s support for Borhanuddin Rabbani’s government during the civil war period, caused great animosity between the supporters of Sepah-e Pasdaran led by Akbari and the many Hazaras who supported Hezb-e Wahdat led by Abdul Ali Mazari. This legacy of the pre-civil war era still has a strong impact on political affairs in Daikundi, so any shift in relative power is watched with great interest. 

The security situation on election day

Daikundi was one of the few provinces where relatively few irregularities and security challenges were reported on election day. This was in large part due to the relatively good security situation and the close monitoring by a large number of observers. Most of the more than 5,000 observers were candidate agents, but there were also 112 observers from independent organisations: the Free and Fair Election Forum of Afghanistan (FEFA) had 30 observers, the Transparent Election Foundation of Afghanistan (TEFA) had 60, the Afghanistan Civil Society Forum Organisation (ACSFo) had 12 observers and the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) had 10 observers, according to Aziz Ahmad Rasuli, the head of the IEC’s office in Daikundi. These election watch bodies, except ACSFo, had observers in all eight districts (although in some case not more than one or two people). ACSFo’s observers were only in the provincial capital. The Election Complaints Commission (ECC) also had one observer in each polling centre. 

Although, no security incidents occurred on election day, three of the 276 polling centres (3) remained closed due to high security treats and the possible presence of the Taleban: two in Kijran district and one in Pato. Both districts are on the border with Uruzgan and Helmand provinces. On 17 October 2018, three days before election day, the Taleban killed 13 Afghan security forces in Kijran. One day later, a woman was killed and two women and a child were injured in an IED explosion close to a public cemetery in the Padangak area of Kijran. Officials believed that the Taleban launched these attacks to dissuade people from voting and had planned to engage in more election-related violence and attacks in Kijran and Nawamesh. However, the Taleban also suffered many casualties in their attack on 17 October 2018, which may have forced them to rethink their plans. 

The situation in Pato district was different. Pato is a newly established district that used to be part of Gizab. The population is 70 per cent Hazara and 30 per cent Pashtun, with the Pashtun population concentrated in Tamazan and Pato villages (the district name comes from this village, which is also the official district centre). Gizab had long been a source of contestation: over whether it should belong to Uruzgan or Daikundi, and whether it should be split in two or not. The establishment of Pato as a separate district in June 2018, and the local discord that sowed, affected the security situation. The polling centre in Pato which remained closed on election day was in Tamazan, where Mullah Sangul is from. Mullah Sangul was the commander of the Pato unit of the Afghan Local Police and was in charge of security in the district’s Pashtun areas (for more background on Mullah Sangul and previous conflicts, see for instance this AAN dispatch). After his attempts to become the district governor of Pato failed in June and July 2018, Sangul joined the Taleban with the help of his brother, Mullah Naim, who is a Taleban commander with close links to Abdul Hakim, Gizab’s main Taleban commander. 

Although the Taleban’s attacks were expected on election day, Naim and Sangul did not attempt to disrupt the election. People, including women, still came out to vote: even in Pato more women voted than men. According to Sayed Taher Ettemadi, the district governor of Pato, local security authorities had been well prepared: each polling centre had been guarded by three armed men, one from the national police (ANP), one from the local police (ALP) and one from the intelligence agency (NDS). However, two months after the election day, on 15 December 2018, the brothers started a raid against the Afghan security forces and local upraising groups in Pato, killing and injuring 27 Afghan security forces and displacing 80 families. The Taleban captured three military posts in Tamazan and Raqul villages, one of them just 11 kilometres from Nili, but were forced to leave the area again after a few days and retreated to Barmani village. 

Irregularities on election day: biometrics, voter lists and ballot papers

A last-minute decision by the IEC to introduce biometric voter verification in all polling stations in the parliamentary election led to great confusion and chaos in large parts of the country. In Daikundi, however, the problems seemed less pronounced. The main issue seemed to have been that none of the biometric verification machines were connected to the central database, as according to Aziz Ahmad Rasuli, the head of IEC’s office in Daikundi, the internet was not working properly. This will have curtailed the ability of the IEC to detect attempts at multiple voting. In three out of the 594 polling stations, voting happened without the use of the biometric machines: one in Kiti district, the Baghban polling centre in Kijran and the Jafaria polling centre in Sangtakht. As these polling stations were far from the provincial capital, the IEC office was unable to replace the broken machines with new ones in time. The latter two centres were named in a complaint letter to the ECC by candidate Muhammad Nur Akbari. In some polling centres, where the biometric machines were replaced because they broke down or ran out of charge, polling continued until the evening to make up for lost time. Even when the machines operated normally, the IEC staff often lacked skill in using the machines, which in many cases caused the voting to start with delay. 

Like in many other provinces, some voters could not cast their votes because their names were not included in the voter lists. On election day, AAN interviewed two people who had experienced this. One of them was an old man who had walked for 40 minutes from his home to the Rubat Dasht School polling centre. He said that the identification officer could not find his name on the voter list and that while he was waiting in the queue, he had witnessed four other people who could not vote for the same reason. The IEC tried to solve the problem – nationwide – by instructing its staff, at 13:00, to allow these voters to vote anyway and to add their names by hand to the official voter list. This was, however, not implemented everywhere and also did not solve the fact that some voters had already left and did not come back. There were also an unknown number of polling centres where no voter lists had been sent at all, or that had received the wrong voter lists. There were also instances of ballot paper shortages, which the IEC tried to solve by sending more papers. In some cases, the number of ballots sent did not match the number of voters on the list, while in other cases the centres ran out of ballots after they had allowed voters who were not on the list to vote as well. AAN was not able to find out how many polling centres were affected by ballot shortages in Daikundi. 

Because of the many irregularities, the IEC issued a nation-wide decision to extend the duration of the vote until 20:00 for all polling centres where voting had started with delay (until 13:00) and to call a second day of voting for all polling centres that had opened after 13:00, or not at all (read AAN’s reporting here and here). Despite the extension, in some cases, voters could still not cast their votes before closing time. On the second day of the election, IEC staff in Daikundi re-opened some polling centres, like Barkar polling centre in Miramur district, but they were immediately closed again before anyone could vote. These centres had opened with delay on the first day of the election but had been active before 13:00, so they were not allowed to open again. According to IEC’s Rasuli, there was only one day of polling in Daikundi and no voting happened in the second day.

Not many complaints

Despite these irregularities, most sources agreed that the election in Daikundi went relatively well. The Electoral Complaints Commission’s office in Daikundi received 97 complaints, mainly against IEC staff, with a few against the winning candidates. Unsuccessful candidate and former MP Muhammad Noor Akbari registered the most serious complaints, alleging fraud and claiming that Rayhana Azad and Ali Akbar Jamshedi had influenced the IEC staff in six specific polling centres in their favour (one polling centre in Rayhana Azad’s case, and five in Ali Akbar Jamshedi’s). The Electoral Complaints Commission’s office in Daikundi found no evidence to support his complaints. Although Akbari appealed the decision, Ali Reza Rohani, an ECC commissioner, told AAN that even if his appeal was successful, it would not change the results. The final results were announced on 20 January (according to Akbari, without dealing with his appeal). None of the unsuccessful candidates have formally reacted to the final results, so far.

Edited by Erica Gaston and Martine van Bijlert

(1) Neither the Hezb-e Harakat-e Islami Afghanistan, nor its offshoot led by Sayed Husain Anwari, had fielded a candidate of their own. Anwari, a former military commander of Hezb-e Harakat-e Islami, left the party in 2004 and established Hezb-e Harakat-e Islami Mardom-e Afghanistan. His party supports a small irregular armed group in Ashtarlai district. The group is known as Tol-e Mubalegh (the family of Mubalegh).

(2) Hezb-e Wahdat-e Islami-ye Afghanistan was established by Abdul Ali Mazari in 1989, during the mujahedin war against the Soviet-backed communist regime. It consisted of eight smaller Hazaras political-military parties. After Mazari was killed by the Taleban, Muhammad Karim Khalili was elected as his successor. Haji Muhammad Muhaqiq was a military commander of this party in the North of the country. In 2004, Haji Muhammad Muhaqiq left the party and established his own under the name Hezb-e Wahdat-e Islami-ye Mardom-e Afghanistan. 

(3) The total number of 276 polling centres included 20 polling centres in Nawamesh district of Helmand, which were administered by the IEC’s office in Daikundi (the area was virtually cut-off from Helmand’s capital Lashkargah, but fairly easy to reach from Daikundi). The voters in these polling centres cast their votes for candidates who ran in Helmand. 

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Thematic Category: Political Landscape