On April 5, reports of millions of Afghans taking to the polls started to pour in from across the country. The huge election turnout, estimated at around seven million men and women, came despite Taliban threats and a tight security crackdown that saw the Afghan National Security Forces encircling cities and villages across the nation.
Now, as Abdullah Abdullah — former foreign minister — and Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai — ex-finance minister — prepare for the first the runoff in Afghan history, many wonder if millions will once again cast their ballots on June 14.
Though both candidates continue to rack up endorsements, some Afghans have noticed a change in the fervency of the campaigns.
Whereas many cities were covered in signs, banners, and billboards during round one, both Ghani and Abdullah have now opted for just a few advertisements highlighting their presidential tickets and their endorsers.
'We all just thought: "Why vote if the outcome is pre-determined?"'
In the months leading up to the first round, radio and television were inundated with political spots — including both partisan messages urging voters to cast their ballots for a specific candidate and general calls on the people to vote — but this time the airwaves have been mostly quiet. Though both candidates have called for debates, with nine days until Election Day Abdullah and Ghani have yet to take to their podiums on a shared stage.
“It’s unneeded. Everyone knows who the two running [in this round] are,” is how Omar Gol, 46, explained the more tempered campaign tactics to VICE News.
Still, Gol, who said a crowded candidate pool kept him from casting a ballot on April 5, is unsure if he will head to the polls on June 14.
“The first round wasn’t an election, it was buzkashi,” Gol said, comparing the field of nine candidates to a game of the polo-like sport popular in Afghanistan.
But Gol said it was the presence of one particular candidate that kept him and many others in his north Kabul community from voting the first time round.
“Everyone was saying Zalmai Rassoul [also a former foreign minister] was not only Hamid Karzai’s pick but also Washington’s preferred candidate, so we all just thought: ‘Why vote if the outcome is pre-determined?’”
'Until I know for certain that the vote I cast will actually benefit that candidate I will never take part in an election in this country.'
Despite fears that current president Karzai would use his influence to commit the levels of fraud that marred the 2009 polls to secure a victory for his ex-foreign minister, Rassoul ended up in third place with just over 11 percent of the vote.
Yet Gol’s skepticism is far from rare, especially among those who didn’t participate in the first round. Farooq Faizi, 30, who also stayed home in April, told VICE News he would not vote next week.
“Until I know for certain that the vote I cast will actually benefit that candidate I will never take part in an election in this country,” the Herat province resident said.
Faizi’s doubts of impartiality among the nation’s election bodies comes after the Herat branch of the Independent Election Commission disqualified as many as 100,000 votes cast in the Western province.
Mehdi Noori, 26, told VICE News that although he will definitely vote in a second round, he too cannot be certain that the president will be selected by the people’s vote alone.
“I am hopeful that no one will play games with my vote,” said the Herat resident who is currently studying in India.
Still, others who spoke to VICE News from both the east and west of Afghanistan, say that no matter their misgivings, the people must participate in a second round.
'What good will an education do for my children if when they graduate there are no jobs for them?'
Shahram Nazari, a Herat-based journalist, said the value of this election as the first democratic, peaceful transition of in the nation is too important to be ignored.
“This is the first time that political power and responsibility will be transferred from one president to another,” said Nazari. The 28-year-old added that when he comes to power, the president, whoever it may be, must work to bring and prosperity to Afghanistan.
Though his preferred candidate did not secure enough votes to take part in the second round, Haji Gholam Rabbani, from the eastern province of Logar, told VICE News that he will indeed cast a second ballot.
Like so many others throughout the country, Rabbani, in his mid-50s, cited an uncertain economic future — including an unemployment rate estimated to be as high as 35 percent — as his primary reason for heading back to the polls.
“I’m an illiterate man, so I made sure to send all my children to school to insure they would have more options. But what good will an education do if when they graduate there are no jobs for them?”
But others know their votes can only go so far in determining the future of the nation.
Mohammad Ayoub Rahimi, 68, a guard in Herat, believes the election is a necessary step in creating a unified, independent Afghan nation. Yet Rahimi also knows that, in the end, the ability of the country to even maintain the advancements made in the last 13 years lies in the hands of the man residing in the presidential palace. “If he is bad we will be much, much worse off than we are even now.”
Follow Ali M Latifi on Twitter: @alibomaye