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Afghanistan: Theater Used To Reach Out To Voters

Elections workers are doing everything they can to entice people to vote In three weeks' time, Afghanistan takes its next big step along the road to democracy -- parliamentary and council elections. For the authorities, a key part of the election is to reach out to ordinary people, to encourage them to vote, and to explain the process. RFE/RL looks at one novel -- and entertaining -- effort to do just that.

Prague, 27 August (RFE/RL) -- In Bamiyan Province, where two historic Buddha statues one stood, a crowd has gathered to watch a very modern performance.

The audience laughs appreciatively at the actors' antics, but the play has an entirely serious goal.

It's to show what Afghan voters will go through when they cast their ballots on 18 September -- and to encourage people to go to the polls.

Shamsuddin Yousofzai, dressed in a pointed green hat with red tassels, takes time out from playing a clown to talk to Reuters.

"The purpose of this show is to inform and teach people about elections and the benefit of elections," Yousofzai said. "Through these shows we give instruction to the people, and also it is a way of also entertainment and fun for the people of Bamiyan who have suffered so much and I am really proud to be a part of it."

The Joint Electoral Management Body is using more orthodox means to reach potential voters, with messages on radio, television, and newspapers.

But the more unusual mobile theater is playing a key role, too, according to university student Akbar Khan.

"Before our people were not aware of elections, this show is very useful and people really benefit from this because it tells us what elections mean," Khan said.

On 18 September, voters will pick a lower house of parliament and provincial councils.

Security is an ever-present concern. More than 1,000 people have been killed in violence this year already.
"Before our people were not aware of elections, this show is very useful and people really benefit from this because it tells us what elections mean." -- university student

The UN Security Council recently condemned attempts by Taliban militants and other extremists to disrupt the polls.

Extra NATO troops are being sent, bringing the force's strength to more than 10,000 by the end of August. There are also nearly 20,000 U.S.-led troops in Afghanistan.

Despite the violence, local resident Ghulam Sakhi said he's determined to go to the polls.

"We want to vote for a person who can help us and help in the rebuilding of Afghanistan," Sakhi said. "We will not vote for a cruel person, people should choose a good member of parliament who is honest and a real Muslim, not a bad man."

Yousofzai, the clown, says he is proud of what he is doing.

The actors are getting a good response from people, he says -- and that shows their message is getting across.

Related stories:

"Afghanistan: Threats, Intimidation Reported Against Female Candidates"

"Afghanistan: Interview With UN Special Rapporteur On Violence Against Women"