How we choose is as important as who we choose

One Young World Ambassador Rania Elessawi is an Egyptian-American development professional. She currently works in Afghanistan with UNICEF.

Almost two weeks have passed since Afghanistan went to the polls to elect a new president and, whilst the votes are still being counted, this historic election will be remembered as the ‘first democratic’ transfer of executive power in the country. I will remember the elections as perhaps the most significant time I have spent in Afghanistan.

Discussions amongst my colleagues in the run up to the elections have been fascinating.  Many were undecided as to who to vote for; swaying between candidates almost daily.

'I took my son with me to the election poll, and asked him who he thinks I should vote for, because I was voting for his future,' said Mahfooz in Kabul.

Of course many of my colleagues and friends in the development sector are from privileged backgrounds with university educations and access to international media.

But in general candidates were assessed on who would be best for the social and economic progress of Afghanistan and their desire to never go back to the days of extremism and warfare.

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Afghan children playing an 'election game'.

'We grew up playing 'battle field' with toy weapons. Now our future leaders are growing up in a different environment. Just seeing this picture brings tears to the eyes of Afghans like me. It shows how far we have come,' remarked Khaled in Kabul.

The extent of Afghanistan’s democratic engagement is widespread and by no means stops with an educated or urban elite. I have been lucky enough to travel most of the country in the past year, attending community meetings with elders, men, women and children. I will never forget the words of so many who shared their feelings on the election with me.

'We want peace and calm, we don’t want to worry about if our children and families will make it home safely everyday,' said one mother from Sayad Abad District in Sari-Pul Province.

This sentiment was echoed by many of the people who I have been fortunate to meet. What is more there is a determination to welcome this new period by taking part in the democratic process. As so many have said in the past weeks;

'How we choose is as important as who we choose.'

This determination can be seen in the voter turnout with more than seven million of Afghanistan’s 12 million eligible voters taking to the polls. All this, in the face of increasing violence and repeated attempts to postpone the elections by any means.

After just 7% of the vote was counted, politicians were on television claiming their victories or giving their predictions for the remaining ballot count. The top two contenders at this point are Dr. Abdullah Abdullah (former Foreign Minister) and Dr. Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai (former Finance Minister). But at this point, who will be victorious or whether there will be a second run-off is not clear.

Whatever the result of the election, what is most important is that people have participated. Of course there are complaints and allegations of fraud, rigging, etc. which will be investigated. The high turnout is a testament to the astonishing resilience of a population that has seen so much war. These seven million people voted to move forward.

There is a change here. Afghans are standing up and playing their part. They will move forward and the elections are just one step in that direction.