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Afghan Businesses: Election Season Caused Economic Hardship

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Afghanistan is a little closer to having a new president. The country has launched an audit of every VOTE cast in last month's runoff election to ensure the outcome is free fraud. Now, in many countries election season means big money for pollsters and media consultants and restaurants and local TV stations. But as the fight for power in Afghanistan continues, businesses across Kabul have faced hardship. NPR's Sean Carberry reports.

SEAN CARBERRY, BYLINE: Abdullah Abdullah's one of the two candidates waiting for the results. He lives in the middle of a busy Kabul neighborhood with everything from furniture stores to fruit stands nearby. There's always been a checkpoint just outside his house, but since the campaign, additional metal gates and concrete blast walls have sprung up. Ahmad Fuad has an ice cream store close to Abdullah's house. Even though officials and tribal elders have been flocking, it's not helping local vendors like Fuad.

AHMAD FUAD: (Foreign language spoken).

CARBERRY: The 30-year-old says both directions to his shop have been cut off from regular traffic.

FUAD: (Through translator) When guests arrive, they park their vehicles here in front of my shop and block the view. The bodyguards come in, sit in the shop and leave without paying anything.

CARBERRY: But economic hardship has hardly been confined to Abdullah's neighbors. The uncertainty over whether the election will be settled peacefully has put spending on hold. Many construction sites have gone silent and shopkeepers here outside Kabul airport say they too are hurting.

(Foreign language spoken)

CARBERRY: Twenty-year-old Parvaiz has a small stand selling snacks. He says business is fine.

(CROSSTALK IN FOREIGN LANGUAGE)

CARBERRY: But then, neighboring shop owners bark at him. My translator explains.

UNIDENTIFIED TRANSLATOR: So some people tell him you have to tell the truth because everything is affected since the beginning of elections.

CARBERRY: Eighteen-year-old Yusuf Sawhel has a shop on this block as well.

YUSUF SAWHEL: When our election started - not just Kabul - all provinces of Afghanistan - the businesses are down.

CARBERRY: And when you say business is down...

SAWHEL: Yeah.

CARBERRY: By how much? I mean, 10 percent, 50 percent?

SAWHEL: One hundred percent. One hundred percent of our business is down.

CARBERRY: Down the road from the airport, sit a series of gleaming wedding halls. These neon palaces are the most modern looking things in the city and some of the most successful businesses in town with weddings taking place almost every night, but not this year. Mohammad Payman is the director of the City Stars wedding hall.

MOHAMMAD PAYMAN: (Foreign language spoken).

CARBERRY: People have been holding off on weddings due to the uncertainty surrounding the election, hey says. I'm unable to pay my staff of 300 people, he says. Payman host about 10 political campaign events, something you'd think would recoup some of his losses.

PAYMAN: (Through translator) The campaigns only ordered water and biscuits. The revenue didn't even cover my electricity costs.

CARBERRY: If there's one business that should be going well during an election, it's printing companies. For months, campaign posters have festooned every billboard and lamppost in the city. Ahmad Wali Merzai says his company made a lot of money during Afghanistan's previous elections.

AHMAD WALI MERZAI: We were supposed to have a lot of work.

CARBERRY: But this time, he says most of the candidates used cheaper printing shops in neighboring Pakistan. Sean Carberry, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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