This piece first aired in July, 2009, as part of the show, “Up in the Air.”
- HOST: On August 20, Afghanistan will hold its second democratic Presidential election since 2001. After 8 years in office, President Hamid Karzai will face 40 other candidates from provinces across the country. And while the focus has remained on the top 3 favorites, Hamid Karzai, Abdulla Abdulla, and Ashraf Ghani, a fourth man has emerged from the crowd with a style all his own. Maggie DeLorme has the story.
MAGGIE DELORME: With no house or security, and a small tent for an office, Dr. Bashardost says that his unique campaign style has set him apart from the other main candidates.
RAMAZAN BASHARDOST: Mr. Karzai, or Mr. Abdulla, or Mr. Ashraf Ghani, they cannot go without bodyguards, in Kabul. They go from his office or his house. They have about 20 or 30 bodyguards and the Afghan government gives to each big candidate a very luxurious car. And I am the only candidate to refuse to accept this car. I go in each area without bodyguards between ordinary people in the market, in the street. I talk to people. I explain my ideas.
MAGGIE DELORME: But Bashardost’s decision to reject the traditional and high-spending campaign style of the other three main candidates has cost him visibility and popularity throughout the country.
ZUHRA BAHMAN: Here in Afghanistan, he is not as visible as other presidential candidates are, in terms of solid, sort of presence in terms of posters, in terms of holding public meetings and things like that. He is still meeting people in a very low key way, he basically sits in a tent so that people can go and meet him. Very few posters around of him. Whereas others have been more aggressive – which is making him sort of fade behind the heavyweights at the moment.
MAGGIE DELORME: That was Zuhra Bahman, a professor and journalist at the American University of Afghanistan. She says that despite his place in the race, his role in the election is not something to be overlooked.
ZUHRA BAHMAN: So even the fact that he is not going to win the election, he brings out some issues that the Afghan people would like raised. And also he pushes boundaries where some more high profile candidates can’t even get out of Kabul city, he is somebody that does not use a lot of armed guards and he is traveling around the country. So he just brings out the fact that a lot of the security concerns in Afghanistan are actually the perception of insecurity, not the reality of insecurity. So he brings out some issues that the other presidential candidates can’t.
MAGGIE DELORME: Dr. Ramazan Bashardost, an ethnic Hazara, was born in the Qarabagh District in the Ghazni Province of Afghanistan in 1965. After finishing secondary school, Bashardost left Afghanistan for Iran and then Pakistan to finish his high school education.
From there he traveled to France where he would spend the next 20 years earning Masters degrees in Law, Diplomacy, and Political Science, as well as a PhD in Law from France’s Toulouse University. He returned to Afghanistan in 2002 where he worked for various government jobs eventually becoming Afghanistan’s Planning Minister in 2004. That year Bashardost also published his book, Basic Political and Diplomatic Laws of Afghanistan, for which he received an award at the Academy of Political Sciences of France- the first award ever to be won by an independent Afghan scientist and scholar. In 2006 he was elected as Kabul’s representative in Parliamentary Elections.
Bashardost’s outspoken criticism of the government and his firm stance against corruption and human rights violations turned heads within the government. But outside of the stark government walls Dr. Bashardost’s ideals swept through the country, winning him widespread support and admiration. Sohail Shariq, a 24-year old political science student in Afghanistan describes Dr. Bashardost’s tough stance on corruption and dishonesty in the government.
SOHAIL SHARIQ: He is very famous in Afghanistan. He is famous for his honesty, for his hardworking, and especially for his fight against corruption. For his war against corruption, especially against warlords who have commited crimes against humanity in the past.
MAGGIE DELORME: Dr. Bashardost highlights the international repercussions of such corruption in Aghanistan.
RAMAZAN BASHARDOST: It is not acceptable for Afghan people and also for international communities to pay in Afghanistan the big criminals of war that are in power. They are Minister, they are chief of Police, they are governors. So it is time to change this because it’s in the American people interest, in the Afghan people interest. It is because the reason I say to Afghan people I am a candidate of you, Afghan people. And I am also a candidate of American taxpayer, British taxpayer, because we are of service to them.
MAGGIE DELORME: Bashardost is also distinctive in his unifying approach to the ethnic diversity of Afghanistan. Parwiz Noorzad, a student at the American University of Afghanistan, says Bashardost’s aim to campaign across different ethnic groups is crucial in a country like Afghanistan.
PARWIZ NOORZAD: He doesn’t have any racial discrimination. He will never differentiate between the Pashtun and the Tajiks. He says that we are all Afghans. So there’s no difference between us. Unlike the other candidates, for example Karzai, mostly Pashtun will vote for him. They will support him. Dr. Abdulla, the Tajik ethnic and ethnics from the north will support him. But for this guy, all the people who are educated, they know, and they are not fanatic people, or people who are not for example in favor of discrimination, and stuff like that, they will vote for him.
MAGGIE DELORME: Even though Bashardost has rejected any large-scale campaign spending, that hasn’t stopped him from meeting with people all over the country. Bashardost is known for being very accessible to the people and Bahman tells how she was surprised when calling his office to find him answering the phone himself.
ZUHRA BAHMAN: The thing that makes him close to people is the fact that he is physically close to him. He hasn’t hidden himself behind any barricades, he hasn’t gotten any guards. He sits with people, he eats with people, he lives in a very normal residential area, he speaks the different languages of Afghanistan. And those are the kinds of things that make people feel comfortable.
MAGGIE DELORME: Bahman describes how Dr. Bashardost is unique from the other candidates in his modesty and his ability to inspire his listeners.
ZUHRA BAHMAN: For example he’s talking about poverty in Afghanistan and how important it is to eradicate poverty or how to lower it. He is talking about unemployment and so on. And right after his meeting we were supposed to go to one of the newer upmarket shopping areas in Kabul, and I found myself feeling guilty for spending money. Money that the country doesn’t have, and on things we don’t need. And I thought that in that sense he is very inspiring to make us think. To make us feel something.
MAGGIE DELORME: For many, Bashardost’s story is one of humility and grace. For Sohail, he has become a role model for what a candidate in Afghanistan should strive to be like.
SOHAIL SHARIQ: Bashardost will create a legacy. And that legacy will continue, if not now but of course in the future. He will form a legacy, and that legacy is based on honesty, hard work, loving people, and paying attention to the ordinary Afghans. I think that yeah, he will be a role model, in the future if not now.
MAGGIE DELORME: This August will be just the second democratic presidential election in Afghanistan. And despite the outcome, Dr. Bashardost hopes his beliefs and campaign methods will continue to shape elections for years to come. For War News Radio, I’m Maggie DeLorme.