Afghan elections hotline rings non-stop
(With information from Tilak Pokharel, UNAMA)
Twenty days before the Afghan population turns out to vote at the presidential and provincial council election, a number of people are still calling the country’s election hotline. Each week around 25,000 people call the toll-free number to ask about the election process. Many questions are from women, asking issues of particular concern to them. For instance: is the registration of women done by women? (It is).
The Afghanistan Independent Election Commission (IEC) set up the call centre in September 2008 to clear queries from people across the country. The center was set up at the headquarters of an Afghan cell phone company, through a partnership between the IEC and the election support project of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP/ELECT).
In the beginning, eight operators and two supervisors were answering calls. In April 2009, the center was upgraded, and more operators were trained. Now, across the country, 30 staff-members answer calls in the languages Dari and Pashto in three shifts of six hours each: from 6am to midnight. Each attended a 15-day training course before answering the public’s questions.
According to the operators, most of the questions are related to the election date, the candidates, the security situation, voter registration and polling centers. One operator, Mohammad Jalal, says that most calls are from “ordinary people”, though “important people”, like election candidates also use the hotline.
“They [people] even ask for the phone numbers and address of individual candidates,” said Hamauoon Masudy, also an operator. “Then, we tell them our service only includes providing public information, not personal details. And, some of them – especially the illiterate ones – get very disappointed.”
According to Shafi Jalali, head of the IEC’s Public Outreach Department, the call centre has been an effective means of public outreach and dissemination of election-related information, also motivating people to vote. “The media campaign is a one-way communication with the public, while the call centre is a two-way communication – and people can get all their questions answered through this centre”, Jalali added.
“Since the job involves talking over the phone continuously,for [several] hours, it can get tedious sometimes,” said operator Masudy. “But, we are very happy to serve the people. It makes the people aware about the polls.”
The call centre was also used during the previous elections in Afghanistan, in 2004 and 2005, but operating in a smaller scale.