Sunday, July 24, 2016


Afghanistan

Will The Next Afghan President Be A Pen, Radio, Or Bulldozer?

An Afghan parliamentarian casts her ballot in an election in Kabul in 2010. (file photo)
An Afghan parliamentarian casts her ballot in an election in Kabul in 2010. (file photo)

Multimedia

By Frud Bezhan
A bulldozer. A radio. A pencil. A Koran. These are just a few of the candidates vying to win Afghanistan's upcoming presidential election.

For each of the 10 candidates expected to be on the ballot for the April 5 vote, there is a symbol. And those symbols will be printed on ballot papers alongside the name and photograph of each candidate to help voters choose their preferred candidate.

The idea is to make voting easier for the many eligible voters in the country who cannot read. Only 39 percent of Afghanistan's adult population is literate.

In keeping with elections dating back to 2004, the country's Independent Election Commission (IEC) initially assigned a symbol to each potential candidate assuming that there would be a high number of contenders to choose from.

(This approach caused problems during general elections in neighboring Pakistan this spring, where some candidates took umbrage at the symbols they were assigned.)

However, after the IEC eliminated 17 hopefuls from the running, only 10 remained from the list of vetted candidates announced on October 22. This freed up the IEC to allow candidates to choose their own symbols, pending approval.

PHOTO GALLERY: Afghanistan's Presidential Hopefuls
  • Abdullah Abdullah (center)

    ethnic Tajik

    Vice-presidential running mates: Mohammad Khan (Pashtun) (left in photo), Mohammad Mohaqeq (Hazara) (right in photo)

    Abdullah (born in 1960) is a former foreign minister and qualified eye surgeon. He finished second behind President Hamid Karzai in the 2009 presidential election, with around 30 percent of the vote.

    The Jamiat-e Islami and Hezb-e Islami were deadly rivals during Afghanistan's civil war, but that did not prevent Jamiat-e Islami member Abdullah from adding Hezb-e Islami associate Khan to his ticket.
  • Ashraf Ghani
     
    Pashtun
     
    Vice-presidential running mates: General Abdul Rashid Dostum (ethnic Uzbek), Sarwar Danish (Hazara)
     
    Ghani (born in 1949) is a former finance minister and World Bank official who has a doctorate in cultural anthropology.
     
    The Western-educated technocrat fared poorly in the 2009 election, coming in fourth place with only three percent of the vote
     
    He raised eyebrows after partnering up with Dostum, a notorious former warlord who has been implicated in numerous human rights violations. 
  • Zalmai Rasul

    Pashtun
     
    Vice-presidential running mates: Ahmad Zia Masud (ethnic Tajik) and Habiba Sarabi (Hazara)
     
    Rasul (born in 1944), a former foreign minister, is seen by many as the president’s favored candidate.
     
    He hails from the powerful Mohammadzai tribe in the country's south that has ruled Afghanistan for most of the past century.
     
    Rasul is a soft-spoken man who has kept a low profile during his time as a presidential adviser and minister.
  • Abdul Rasul Sayyaf (center)
     
    Pashtun
     
    Vice-presidential running mates: Ismail Khan (ethnic Tajik) (left in photo) and Abdul Wahab Erfan (ethnic Uzbek) (right in photo)
     
    Sayyaf (born in 1946) is an influential lawmaker from Kabul who is one of the most controversial and conservative of the candidates.
     
    He is an Egyptian-trained cleric who is credited with bringing leading Al-Qaeda figures -- including former leader Osama bin Laden -- to Afghanistan during the Soviet occupation in the 1980s.
     
    Sayyaf’s right-hand man, Khan, is the former energy and water minister. Khan, a former Tajik warlord from Herat Province, is referred to as the emir (or king) of western Afghanistan. 
  • Gul Agha Shirzai

    Pashtun
     
    Vice-presidential running mates: Sayed Hossain Alemi Balkhi (Hazara) and Mohammad Hashem Zare (ethnic Uzbek)
     
    Shirzai (born in 1955) is a former governor of both the Kandahar and Nangarhar provinces. His nickname is "The Bulldozer," reflecting his hard-hitting style and reputation for getting things done.
     
    During his time as governor of Nangarhar, the former warlord was praised for completing a series of daunting infrastructure projects in record time, eradicating opium production, and curbing militant activity in the province.
     
    But his record was tarnished by concerns from the international community that he was using his position of power to accumulate personal wealth. He is accused by his opponents of intimidation and extortion.
  • Hedayat Amin Arsala
     
    Pashtun
     
    Vice-presidential running mates: General Khudaidad (Hazara) and Safia Seddiqi (Pashtun)
     
    Arsala is a prominent politician and former finance minister who was educated in the United States.
     
    Arsala (born in 1942), an economist by trade, has teamed up with General Khudaidad, a former minister of counternarcotics. Arsala's other running mate is Safia Seddiqi, a dual Afghan-Canadian citizen who hails from the eastern province of Nangarhar.
  • Qutbuddin Helal
     
    Pashtun
     
    Vice-presidential running mates: Enayatullah Enayat (ethnic Uzbek) and Muhammad Ali Nabizada (ethnic Tajik)
     
    Helal is a prominent member of the Hezb-e Islami faction led by notorious jihadist leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who has been blacklisted by Washington as a terrorist.
     
    The Hezb-e Islami, currently fighting against international and Afghan security forces, has been accused of some of the worst human-rights abuses that occurred during Afghanistan's civil war in the 1990s.
  • Daud Sultanzoi

    Pashtun

    Vice-presidential running mates: Farid Ahmad Fazli (ethnic Tajik), Kazemia Mohaqeq (Hazara)

    Sultanzoi is a former member of parliament from volatile Ghazni Province. The 60-year-old is a technocrat and seen as a reformer. He has been highly critical of President Karzai and the presence of former warlords in the government. Sultanzoi was the head of the Economics Committee in the lower house of parliament before he resigned to run for the presidency.

    He is a former United Airlines and Ariana Afghan Airline pilot. Sultanzoi, who has relinquished his German citizenship, has adopted two pens as his election symbol.
  • Qayum Karzai -- WITHDRAWN
     
    Pashtun
     
    Vice-presidential running mates: Wahidullah Shahrani (ethnic Uzbek) and Ibrahim Qasemi (Hazara)
     
    Qayum Karzai (born in 1957), outgoing President Hamid Karzai's older brother, is a prominent technocrat.
     
    He is also a businessman and former lawmaker. Interestingly, Qayum has not received the backing of his brother.
     
    Qayum was to have run with Wahidullah Shahrani, an ethnic Uzbek who has served as minister of mines, and Ibrahim Qasemi, a Hazara and former member of parliament.

    He announced his withdrawal from the race in early March and urged his supporters to vote for Zalmai Rasul.
  • Abdul Rahim Wardak -- WITHDRAWN

    Pashtun
     
    Vice-presidential running mates: Shah Abdul Ahad Afzali (ethnic Tajik) and Sayed Hussain Anwari (Hazara)
     
    Wardak (born in 1940) is a former minister of defense who most recently served as a security adviser to the president.
     
    The U.S.-educated Wardak played a key role in rebuilding the Afghanistan National Army but was sacked after a no-confidence vote by parliament in 2012 over alleged security failures.

    During the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s, Wardak led one of the Islamist mujahedin groups fighting the Afghan communist regime and its Soviet backers.

    He gave no reason for his withdrawal from the presidential race in mid-March and did not back any other ca
  • Prince Mohammad Nader Naim -- WITHDRAWN

    Ethnic Pashtun

    Vice-presidential running mates: Taj Mohammad Akbar (Tajik) and Azizullah Puya (Pashtun)

    Naim is the grandson of former King Zaher Shah, who was ousted from power in 1973 and lived in Rome until he returned to Afghanistan in 2002.

    Naim, who returned to Afghanistan in 2002 after two decades in exile, was a close aide to the former monarch, who died in Kabul in 2007.

    He announced his withdrawal at a press conference on March 26 that was attended by candidate Zalmai Rasul, for whom Naim urged his supporters to vote.


The use of symbols will not be limited to presidential candidates. Those running in provincial elections, which will also be held on April 5, had to choose from one of three symbols offered to them. Overall, there were more than 5,000 possible symbols, including everything from a ladder, a television set, an ice-cream cone, and a bicycle.

Here is a list of leading candidates and their respective symbols:



Bulldozer

Presidential hopeful Gul Agha Shirzai, a former governor of both Kandahar and Nangarhar provinces, opted for a bulldozer to match his nickname, earned for his hard-hitting style and reputation for getting things done.

During his time as governor of Nangarhar, the former warlord completed a series of daunting infrastructure projects in record time, including building a network of paved roads, installing solar-powered street lights in urban centers, and reconstructing the presidential palace in the provincial capital, Jalalabad.

Scales Of Justice

Qutbuddin Helal, a prominent member of the Hezb-e Islami faction, led by notorious jihadist leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, chose the scales of justice as his symbol.

His choice has raised eyebrows. Hekmatyar has been blacklisted by Washington as a terrorist and his Hezb-e Islami faction, currently fighting against international and Afghan security forces, has been accused of committing some of the worst human-rights abuses that occurred during Afghanistan's 1990s civil war.

Koran

Ashraf Ghani, a former finance minister and World Bank official, chose the Koran as his symbol.

It is unclear why, exactly, he chose the Koran. But the Western-educated technocrat could be looking to show voters his religious side. Afghanistan is one of the world's most deeply religious and conservative countries and some Afghans could be wary of a candidate with ties to the West.

Ultimately, however, Ghani could have to make another choice. In the past, symbols of cultural, religious, or historical importance have been ruled out on the basis that they could give candidates an unfair advantage.

Afghan Flag

Abdul Rasul Sayyaf is an Egyptian-trained cleric who is credited with bringing leading Al-Qaeda figures -- including former leader Osama bin Laden -- to Afghanistan during the Soviet occupation in the 1980s.

He picked the Afghan flag as his symbol, perhaps in an attempt to showcase his patriotism and overcome the perception among voters that he has strong connections with foreigners.

But his choice, too, could be overruled, seeing as the flag is an official symbol of the Afghan state.

Pencil

Qayum Karzai, the older brother of outgoing President Hamid Karzai, has smartly adopted the pencil as his logo.

Qayum Karzai is a prominent technocrat who was educated in the United States. He has stressed the important role education can play in developing the country and putting it on the road to prosperity.  

Book And Pen

Abdullah Abdullah, a former foreign minister, has also adopted a symbol of education.

Abdullah is a qualified eye surgeon and the 2009 election runner-up has often spoken about the importance of education.

Wheat

Hedayat Amin Arsala, a former finance minister, has gone with wheat, a symbol of abundance and prosperity. Arsala, who was educated in the United States, is an economist by trade. His choice may be designed to show off his economic credentials.

Peace

Abdul Rahim Wardak, a former minister of defense, who most recently served as a security adviser to the president, chose an Islamic peace symbol.

A white dove, with wings spread, is flanked by two swords. The emblem reads "Allahu Akbar," or "God Is Great."

During the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s, Wardak was the leader of one of the Islamist mujahedin groups fighting the Afghan communist regime and its Soviet backers. 

Radio

In what appears to be an odd choice for a candidate known to be soft-spoken, former Foreign Minister Zalmai Rasul chose a radio as his symbol. Rasul kept away from the public eye for much of his time as a presidential adviser and minister. Might the radio reflect his desire to reach out to the Afghan public?

Peace Doves

Prince Mohammad Nader Naim appears to have chosen three doves -- a symbol of peace. Naim is the grandson of former King Zaher Shah. Naim was a close aide to the former monarch, who died in Kabul in 2007.

Frud Bezhan

Frud Bezhan covers Afghanistan and the broader South Asia and Middle East region. Send story tips to bezhanf@rferl.org. 

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