In the elections of 2009 and 2010, one of the more picturesque and celebratory scenes was at the gates of Kabul, where crowds gathered to fill vans headed north. The vans were plastered with campaign posters and many flew Afghan flags. Essentially, these cars were offering free rides to voters headed north, particularly to the Panjshir and Parwan provinces (within easy driving distance of Kabul). These cars and vans were organized by the campaigns of provincial council and parliamentary candidates, hoping to get voters to vote in polling stations to the north. Since in Afghanistan you can vote at whatever polling station you want (with some complications with the nomad vote), to vote for a candidate in your home province you need to go there. As a result, candidates from provinces like Panjshir, since many Panjshiris have moved to Kabul, look to bring voters back home to vote for them. This, of course, sometimes backfires – one young man proudly told me he had taken a ride from one candidate, but voted for a different one – but does result in a rather cheerful scene of voters crammed into cars racing across the plains north of Kabul.
This year, however, there were many fewer cars and one brave grey haired man waving an Afghan flag in the rain from the back of a large tuck. What happened to these happy caravans? Well, on one hand, the rain probably did not help much. More, however, in the past 5 years general thinking on the Provincial Councils has changed. Legally their status has shifted so that they have just an “advisory” role. As a result, some of the older generation of politicians is less interested in positions and the younger generation is becoming increasingly interested in using these positions as essentially a starting point in their political careers (of course many of the more ambitious members of the younger generation are also foregoing PC elections to run for more prestigious positions in parliament). This older generation of candidate, however, also was more likely to have ties to the political parties and that are capable of organizing (and paying for) such voter caravans.
Of course, with parliamentary elections scheduled for next year, where voting is also by province and likely to be highly contested, expect to see a return of these caravans in the 2015 elections.