Afghan call to wait peacefully for election results

By Jennifer Brookland

August 13, 2014


As auditors carry out an unprecedented audit of more than 8 million votes to reveal Afghanistan’s next president, two local organizations are urging people to wait patiently—and peacefully.

A messaging campaign led by AidTrends Afghanistan and Afghan Amputee Bicyclists for Rehabilitation and Recreation (AABRAR) has used print, radio and television to broadcast peaceful elections messages in five provinces. Now, Creative Associates International is taking to the radio to help these messages go nationwide.

The two Afghan organizations developed peace advocacy messages after leading focus groups with civil society organizations, government officials, community leaders, women and youth as early as March, 2014.

From those sessions, more than 200 messages emerged that Afghans themselves knew would resonate with their friends, neighbors and community members.

Produced in Dari and Pashto for print, radio and television, the campaign encouraged people to participate in the April 5 presidential elections, contribute to the development of the country and show the world that Afghan democracy has a future.

“Supporting and participating in a peaceful election is every Afghan’s responsibility,” reads the translation of one poster. “Let’s vote peacefully for our bright future.”

AidTrends put up 125,000 posters and distributed 125,000 leaflets in Helmand and Khost provinces alone—as well as broadcasting almost 2,300 messages over the radio and TV.

“The campaign asks people to participate in the process, do your duty as a citizen, and when you come to participate, participate peacefully,” says Pablo Galarce, Senior Electoral Conflict Prevention Advisor with Creative Associates International’s Afghanistan Community Cohesion Initiative program.

The initiative is funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Office of Transition Initiatives and implemented by Creative as part of its global leadership in electoral conflict management and mitigation. It is built on Creative’s leadership and experience drafting handbooks, conducting assessments, and undertaking programs to prevent, manage, or mediate electoral conflict.

Both advocating and educating

Since no one presidential candidate received more than 50 percent of the vote, Afghanistan went to a second round of elections on June 14. That runoff caused confusion among some voters.

“This is a new process,” explains Basir Jalali, national elections expert with Creative. “Many Afghans don’t understand why they voted but there was no result.”

When it became clear a runoff would take place, AidTrends and AABRAR, with support from Creative, started another round of focus groups to create updated messages. The new missives to other Afghans: Wait peacefully for results—and accept them when they come.

Also, don’t give up on voting. The second round of messages validated people’s participation in the first election, despite the lack of a clear outcome.

“On April 5, Afghans voted in large numbers for 8 presidential Candidates. On June 14, the two candidates that received the most votes will participate in the second round of elections,” a poster says. “Let’s participate again! Let’s vote in peaceful elections! Let’s build in our dream of a stronger and democratic Afghanistan…!”

Spreading the word

AidTrends and ABRAAR made sure these messages reached even remote and insecure areas using face-to-face presentations and radio broadcasts—a shift in strategy inspired by feedback on the campaign’s initial phase.

They organized sessions with shura members, community mobilizers and elders to get them to participate in the voting and encourage others to follow suit.

“Peaceful election messengers” visited communities, talked about the campaign and explained to the public what their rights were when it came to voting.

Beyond the near-term goal of a calm and transparent election, the campaign needed to educate a populace that is still test driving democracy.

“The majority of [Afghans] are illiterate,” says Irfan Raqeebi, a project manager with AABRAR. “They really don’t know about the roles and responsibilities of the candidates, the benefits of the election, their human rights and their involvement. They really didn’t know through what channels they can take up their problems.”

They also did not know how to handle bullying from people Raqeebi identified as warlords and insurgents, who he says have been threatening to cut off the fingers of those who vote for certain candidates.

“Some people are affected by the propaganda used by the insurgents,” says Samiullah Sohair, Acting Country Director of AidTrends Afghanistan. “They were not sitting [around]. They were doing their own campaigns, urging people not to participate.”

Local leaders in a focus group in Helmand province recounted how their colleagues had been threatened by the Taliban, and how polling stations and convoys distributing election materials and Independent Electoral Commission staff came under fire.

A few of the poster-pasters hired by AidTrends resigned, believing their lives to be in danger. But they were replaced, and—with local police support—the campaign continued.

A new urgency for peace messaging

Afghans are getting the message. Focus group participants in Kandahar said many people now think their votes will be counted, and that by participating they can help bring about governmental change and ward against corruption and civil war.

“ABRAAR supported the community and the advocacy campaign that says it is your right to vote for the candidate you want- for the future of Afghanistan and its rehabilitation and development,” Raqeebi says.

According to an official from Kandahar province, “These messages were a kind of awakening.”

They also became even more pressing after the second round of votes resulted in a contested result for presidential candidates Ashraf Ghani and Dr. Abdullah Abdullah; both allege massive fraud.

Creative is ramping up efforts to reach the entire country through the end of August with explanations about the process, and pleas to let it play out peacefully.

“I’ve been doing elections for 20 years,” says Galarce. “I believe this program is a successful program. I knew we had something going.”

It’s also the only show in town: No other local or international organizations are using peace messaging to convince the populace to pause instead of taking things into their own hands. It is a singular campaign to encourage patience and peace at a time when neither is assured.

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