Afghanistan voter helpline answering 35,000 queries per week

13 Aug 2009

Voter helpline call center in Kabul
Photo:Amandine Roche/UNDP Elect

With polling day just a week away, a non-stop humming sound emanates from the voter helpline call centre that operates in Kabul. All operators are as busy as ever, answering questions ranging from “Do women have the right to vote?” to “What is the election date?”, “How will our votes be counted?” and “When will the results be announced?” In the past two months, the number of calls rose from 25,000 to nearly 35,000 per week.

The supervisor of the helpline told us that most of the callers are young and the standard question they ask is “I am 18 years old – can I vote?” Only 10 per cent of the callers are women, and one operator believes this is because “women don’t own mobile phones”.

The helpline number, 190 is perhaps the best known phone number in Afghanistan and although an average of 35,000 calls are answered each week, the total number of received calls is far higher. Even by doubling the number of staff, 35 per cent of calls still go unanswered.

But the overwhelming demand is a good sign, according to the call centre operators. They believe that there is an overall enthusiasm about the election, which is reflected in the huge number of calls received.  The operators say there are many who believe in the importance of voting. We were told that a majority of the calls were from the areas of most conflict, like Kandahar, Helmand and others.

Despite fearing for their safety, call centre staff members are driven by their interest in election procedures and knowing more about the candidates, while understanding the dangers in place. For example, due to security reasons, we have been asked not to disclose names of the operators.

The call center staff members say they also want to make their vote count, showing determination and enthusiasm.

“It is our right to vote. We should choose a good president, for our future we should vote”, says an operator. “There should be a real election in Afghanistan to choose a leader for peace, a good life and a secure future for us and our children,” he added.

The efficiently-run call centre is fitted with hi-tech equipment and sophisticated software which gives online data about calls handled and callers waiting. Operators have a list of questions from the Independent Election Commission (IEC) – the Afghan institution that is organizing the elections – with standard answers. But each week the call centre puts together new questions from callers that the IEC had not thought of for their guidance in preparing the responses.

The voter helpline was set up by the Independent Election Commission with support by UNDP’s ELECT project.