Presidential elections in Afghanistan

In two days, the Afghans will go to the polls. The election campaign has been marred by violence and several attacks have received a great deal of international attention because they have been directed at foreigners. At the same time, many Afghans are living under daily violence and constant insecurity. Anders Rosén, based in Kabul, gives a progress report ahead of the election.

The explosion rolled in when I had just sat down with the coffee on the small balcony. I located the blast towards western Kabul but it is often difficult to determine the distance and exact location of major bomb blasts in a city.

It turned out that the Taliban had attacked a guest house of an American aid organization and a Christian organization next door where, among other things, childcare was provided. Which was the main goal is unclear. Three Afghans were killed, plus the suicide bombers.

The election campaign ahead of the presidential election in Afghanistan on April 5 is violent - as expected. The Taliban have threatened to disrupt the election as much as possible with acts of violence. They have shown that they intend to realize the promise.

The day after the attack on the foreign organizations, it was time again. The mobile phone got hot from new security messages. The election commission's office had now been attacked, just 400 meters from the Swedish Afghanistan Committee's headquarters. It took five hours for the police and military to put down the attack, but none other than the attackers were killed.

It was the fourth attack in ten days in Kabul. Earlier, another election office had been attacked, such as the luxury hotel Serena where four foreigners were killed, as well as the entire family of an Afghan journalist. Among the victims was an international election observer, Luis Maria Duarte from Paraguay.

We also sadly remember the murder of Swedish Radio Nils Horner on March 11 and the attack on a Lebanese restaurant on January 17, in which 21 people, including 13 foreigners, were killed. It has obviously become more dangerous to be a foreigner in Kabul in 2014.

The events in Kabul have received a great deal of international attention. At the same time, violence occurs to a greater extent every day in the country, which the international media does not pay any attention to. There are constantly messages on mobile phones about violence and bombs in provinces such as Balkh, Faryab, Paktia, Logar, Badghis… Names that foreign correspondents can barely pronounce but places where people die almost daily.

Despite the resistance groups' attempts to disrupt the presidential election, it is surprising with what hopes the Afghans are looking forward to the election. Almost everyone I have talked to is optimistic and believes that this third presidential election has the potential to have the best outcome. There is a clear hope that the election this time will mean a change.

The candidates are better and stronger and the country has become more politically mature. I admire my Afghan friends and colleagues who almost unanimously say that they should vote, despite the great risks. We know that polling stations will be attacked.

Opinion polls - what they are now worth in Afghanistan - also show that Afghans support the election to 90 percent and that over 70 percent intend to vote. There will not be that many, it would be almost European figures. But a turnout of over 50 percent would be good.

An intensive election campaign is currently underway. On the positive side, the election rallies attract a lot of people, despite the threats, the commitment is great. It has also not been reported that election rallies have been disrupted by violence and riots to any great extent.

In the cities, the street scene is filled with grim faces. Huge placards on men with penetrating and determined looks. They look tough and serious.

Each candidate has a symbol that accompanies everywhere. The choice must be adapted so that only 40 percent of men and 12 percent of women can read and write. Therefore, each candidate has a symbol that accompanies everywhere.

From the beginning, there were eleven candidates. They have now been reduced to eight. But only three are main competitors with a realistic chance:

Mr. Book-and-Pen: Abdullah Abdullah. The leader of the opposition in the north in particular and strong especially among Tajiks. Abdullah is associated with the old resistance fighter Massoud with whom he was close. Was the main challenger to President Karzai in the last election.

Mr. Open Book: Ashraf Ghani. Strong card, especially among Pashtuns. The former finance minister of Karzai has given the impression of having a cohesive program for the development of the country, but it may seem a little strange that he has chosen the old warlord and Uzbek general mate as one of its Vice Presidential candidates.

Mr. Radio: Zalmai Rasoul is an old weapon bearer to President Karzai and former Foreign Minister. Has Karzai's support and is a person who can continue Karzai's line. Has nominated a woman as one of her two Vice Presidential candidates; the well-known and pro-reform governor of Bamyan, Habiba Sarobi which is ethnic hazar.

Opinion polls in Afghanistan should include a handful of salt, but according to a recent poll, Ghani leads with 27 percent of the vote, surprisingly much. Abdullah has 24,5 percent and Karzai's candidate, Rassoul gets only 8 percent, which is surprisingly little.

There are remarkably small variations between different parts of the country and between men and women.

And President Karzai is lurking in the reeds. According to the constitution, he cannot be re-elected for a third term, but it is entirely possible for him to "make a Putin", ie come back and be re-elected in the next election. The weapon bearer Zalmai Rassoul would thus be a good candidate for Karzai. Rassoul can hold the position for four years and then see how Karzai can be elected for another - or two - terms.

President Hamid Karzai is not running in the election. But he is very much involved. For many Afghans, it is still a choice for or against the president. And a possible return for Karzai in the future.

Anders Rosén

Information coordinator
Swedish Afghanistan Committee in Kabul

This is a debate article. The author is responsible for analysis and opinions in the text.

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