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provinces, and had voted without a great deal of exposure to televised debates or awareness-raising programmes such as civic education initiatives. Many were unfamiliar with election procedures, which reflects to some extent the degree of remoteness of the province from large cities. Most women interviewed in rural Nimroz said that they had been unsure of who to vote for, and had consulted their husbands or local elders for advice. However, one widow instead chose candidates according to their logos:

I have voted five times in total, but I don’t know who I voted fo . One time I voted for a person with the logo of a grain of wheat and one time I voted for a person with a logo of three pens. When I saw the wheat logo I thought, “this person will bring us wheat,” and when I saw the pens logo I thought “this person might serve us through his education.” This seemed good to me so I voted for him.

  • Housewife, rural Nimroz

What is striking in this woman’s case is the motivation to participate in spite of not knowing the candidates nor being familiar with the system. Furthermore, the logic presented by this respondent—despite the fact that symbols are actually randomly allocated, with each candidate allowed a choice of three—demonstrates a break from the often-assumed norm of women being told who to vote for. Evidently, this is not the case with all women in Nimroz, but some other women’s stories of consultation with male family members or local leaders demonstrate the active steps they took to seek advice on the subject. This was notably different in rural and semi-urban Ghazni, and rural Nangarhar, where the majority of housewives interviewed had not participated in elections due to security concerns but had overheard their husbands talking about them.

Positive perceptions of the process or idea of elections were widespread across all provinces, but these perceptions were affected to varying degrees by people’s actual experience and the prospect of fraud. One shopkeeper from urban Kabul emphasised that, in spite of fraud, elections were still a positive development in Afghanistan: “Our last two elections

Deconstructing “Democracy” in Afghanistan

were good and a big achievement for Afghans to continue it in future. Eighty percent of the elections were not free and fair, but it was still good.” However, not all respondents were so positive about their electoral experiences. In Nimroz, people had particularly strong views about the PC elections of 2009:

Last year’s PC election was not transparent. There was a lot of fraud and the provincial [governor’s] office supported some specific candidates. We can’t call these PC members representatives of the people because they printed about 4,000 fake cards in Iran and brought them back to Nimroz for the election. I found 180 of these cards and I brought them as proof to show the people responsible for the elections, but it didn’t make any difference because these candidates still used their power to get elected. They represent the governor’s house, not the people. Everyone knows about this—this incident of fraud was even broadcast on a programme on Tolo T , Zang-i-Khate . The person who cheated is even now the representative of the Nimroz PC in the Meshrano Jirga [upper house of parliament]... There are only a few PC members who are real representatives of the people.

  • Female PC member, urban Nimroz

In the PC election last year there were some existing PC members and also some new candidates, but about 70 percent of the

Officials examine evidence of fraud after 2010’s parliamentary election (AREU file photo)

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