In the run-up to the April 5th elections in Afghanistan, the Afghan Cultural House (ACH) with support from Internews has been holding mock presidential debates for youth to give them opportunities to increase their understanding of the electoral process and advocate their positions on important issues.
“When I was speaking, I was looking to the audience who were listening to me carefully,” said Abdul Ali, age 19, one of the mock presidential candidates. “I saw young friends noting down things and finally they asked me their questions. I was so excited to find my friends interested in the event.”
Afghans under 30 years old constitute the majority of the country’s citizens. However, this potentially powerful group is characterized by widespread political disillusionment. Increasing youth involvement in the electoral process is crucial to upholding Afghanistan’s fledgling democracy.
Each mock debate features four to six students who are allotted five minutes to present their platform as if they were running for President of Afghanistan. Members of the audience ask questions, often posing as journalists, and then vote for their preferred candidate. The mock debates have been held once or twice weekly since early February, and indicate a growing sense of civic engagement among young Afghans.
“I will find chances to raise my voice and reach authorities to hear me,” said Nahida Mohibbizada, age 24. “I want to participate in politics of my country and this event was a good chance to prove to myself what having a political speech would look like before public.”
Students who have participated in the debates have reported gaining a deeper and more nuanced understanding of the political process as well as some of the challenges faced by presidential candidates.
“It was so interesting for me, because I was acting as a presidential candidate and I was able to feel the people problem from a view of a president,” said 18-year old English student Ghafoor Ansari.
Nahida Frough, age 20, added, “Although it’s difficult for women to participate in elections, this was helpful because now I can better encourage my father to let my mother and sisters vote for the future.”
The project was funded by the Australian Government Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) through Afghanistan Capacity for Media and Elections (ACME).