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Lesson Learned, Afghans to Retry Vote

Organizing: After an attempted Southland election turned chaotic, guidelines will change.

January 29, 2002|KIMI YOSHINO | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Organizers of a plan to choose 10 Southern California Afghan representatives will look for a bigger venue and consider an electoral college-style vote after a community election Sunday dissolved into verbal sparring and was ultimately disbanded by sheriff's deputies.

The organizers said Monday that they might even hold candidate forums and debates.

One thing is clear: What started as a seemingly simple task--electing representatives--has turned into a logistical headache.

Members of the organizing committee, Council for Peace of Afghanistan, said Monday that they remain committed to their goal of selecting Southern California Afghans who will sit on a 40-member national council. That council will act as a liaison between Afghan Americans and the U.S. and Afghan governments.

''To me, it's been 23 years,'' said organizer Hasan Nouri of Laguna Hills. ''I have been through war with the Soviet Union. I have been through war with the Taliban. [Sunday] was just another day in 23 years. I'm not going to give up.''

The council has met several times since Sept. 11, first in small groups at homes and later in public halls, where hundreds of people attended. It even held elections to vote in the organizers.

But there were rumblings that the Southland's varied and often politically divided 40,000 Afghans were not adequately represented. So organizers started over. They announced Sunday's election in Laguna Hills, declared the meetings public and said any of those over 21 could be candidates.

Sunday's turnout exceeded expectations. Roughly 1,000 people from Orange, Los Angeles, San Diego, Ventura and Riverside counties came to vote.

Some people were turned away when the meeting hall filled up, sparking outrage among some of those present. There was jeering and shouting. Organizers blamed what they called a pro-Taliban presence, whose aim was to disrupt the election. Those people denied being pro-Taliban and said they were merely seeking broader representation. Critics charged that the election was rigged. And when private security guards could not control the crowd, Orange County sheriff's deputies were called.

"What we tried [Sunday] was to put convention, campaign and voting all in three hours," Nouri said. "You can't do that.... We've got to find a way to do it, and we'll do it."

Akbar Kabir, 22, of Reseda, a member of the Afghan American Youth Council, said Monday that despite Sunday's chaos, he witnessed a group committed to the same goal: bettering Afghanistan.

"It's good to see Afghans do things in a more open and democratic way," Kabir said. "I don't consider it a breakdown. I learned that everyone would like to take part in something that will benefit Afghanistan. If people are willing to put in the effort ... they will get it right."

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