Not many areas of Kabul have earned a reputation for mobilizing around elections as much as Dasht-e Barchi. Home to a majority Hazara population, in 2009, 2010 and now 2014 this has been a hotbed of electoral activity. But just what exactly is going on?
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the presidential vote centres on the Abdullah campaign, although reasons people give for supporting him include not only his inclusion of old-guard Hazara leader Mohammed Mohaqqeq but that he represents a new precedent. As a first non-(or half) Pashtun leader, Abdullah would symbolize a change in the commonly-assumed mantra that only a Pashtun could be president. Following this, many DB residents claim, a Hazara or Uzbek candidate could put up a serious campaign in 2019.
Maybe more interesting in this part of town is the way in which the Provincial Council polls are playing out. As most of DB’s residents are migrants from other parts of Afghanistan – namely, different provinces in the central highlands – much of the political mobilization that goes on takes place around communities that form around these places of origin. This has resulted in a highly localized set of groups that not only stand for entire districts in Bamiyan, Maidan Wardak and Ghazni, for example, but also represent much smaller geographical areas within these districts. And for the PC elections, each smaller area is attempting to put forward one (and only one) candidate to ensure a win for their home town. In a system based on the enormous constituency of an entire province, this is the DB communities’ way of ensuring representation by making their own de facto constituencies.
Also, not many established community leaders are putting themselves forward for PC elections in DB. Instead, the overwhelming majority of candidates are young people, attempting to court both the area-based constituencies and more general DB student bodies and civil society networks for their votes. Some are aligned publically with old leaders, for example displaying photos of their patrons on their posters alongside themselves. Others claim to be independent. Either way, the huge participation of young people as candidates in the PC polls this year in DB is quite astonishing.
So why, in the context of a much bigger debate about the future of Afghanistan, are the PCs important? As we’ve said elsewhere, (see here), interest in provincial council polls is critical because it indicates that Afghan voters are thinking about day-to-day issues such as getting hold of a driver’s license or getting a local road fixed – issues that a familiar PC candidate could come in handy for – alongside the macro-concerns of who will run the state. And if people are thinking about these issues, then there’s some hope that civil war isn’t seen as being on the immediate horizon.