Educators emerge as parliamentary candidates in election

Millions of Afghan voters defied grim security threats to take part in parliamentary elections in October, many of them voting for candidates from the education sector, who were prominent among those standing for election this time, and are now awaiting the results.

Afghan voters took to the polls in cities and villages in Afghanistan for the long-overdue Wolesi Jirga (lower house) elections on 20 and 21 October – three years after the current assembly’s five-year term ended in 2015. Some 2,500 candidates stood for the 249 lower house seats, with preliminary results expected by 10 November to allow for ballots from remote, inaccessible areas to be collected.

In the midst of the usual seasoned politicians, powerful warlords and commanding religious figures, a new group of educated middle-class leaders, many from the emerging private education sector, were seeking to appeal to the youth in particular. Many stood as independent candidates.

Kabul-based writer and political affairs analyst, Mohammad Hussain, notes a change in the political landscape, indicating a slow shift “from people with power to people with knowledge”. “A drastic change might not come overnight, but the direction is critical,” Hussain said, pointing out that with high respect for educators in Afghan society, such candidates have a good chance of winning parliamentary seats.

In conversation with University World News, a number of candidates from the education sector eyeing parliamentary seats said they have sound knowledge of the issues faced by the youth and can seek solutions through parliament.

Fatema Nazari, managing director of the Rabia Balkhi Private University, named after the 10th century legendary female Persian poet, is one of the candidates. “Women are not less than men, I want to see them [women and girls] get educated, strive and fight for their rights in society and be empowered,” she told University World News.

Nazari manages three different branches of the private university located in the central, eastern and western parts of Kabul, providing bachelor and masters degree programmes in a variety of social sciences. She also supervises a chain of private schools in the Dasht-e-Barchi neighbourhood of Kabul.

“I understand there are plenty of grim security threats associated with politics in Afghanistan, and for a female candidate, the threats are manifold, but I try not to appear fearful; instead I encourage my followers and voters not to be afraid, and come out to vote,” she said.

Other educators competing for parliament include Aqeel Shah Elyasi, founding director of Katub University; Haroon Shams Khan, founding director of the Shams London Academy schools across Afghanistan; Amir Gul Khan, managing director of Hewad Higher Education Institute; and Mirza Mohammad Safi, founding manager of the Roshan Institute of Higher Education, named after a 16th century revolutionary leader from Waziristan who founded the Roshani movement (enlightenment movement) which gained many followers among the Pashto speakers in the region.

Some candidates such as Sami Mahdi, a Kabul University lecturer, say they want to root out corruption and rampant misuse of power by the current political class. His own campaign focuses on women’s rights and internal security.

According to the country’s Independent Election Commission (IEC), more than five million among the registered nine million voters cast their votes. Sayed Hafizullah Hashimi, IEC spokesman, told University World News the turnout had been “impressive” at 45% – with 67% of them male and 33% female.

More than 70,000 security and defence force members were assigned to ensure security of the parliamentary elections across the country. The main armed rebel group, the Taliban, had warned Afghans against taking part in the process. They cut off the finger of a resident in Helmand province for casting his vote.

Around one-third of voting centres had to be closed at some point due to fears of violence and there were a number of attacks on polling centres and on candidates. According to the BBC, at least 10 candidates were killed in attacks around the country in the run-up to the vote.