Elections hotline ringing non-stop
9 June 2009 - The number of people calling Afghanistan’s election hotline is growing everyday, with about 25,000 Afghans ringing the free number each week.
Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission set up the dedicated call centre to answer questions on the forthcoming elections from people across the country.
Now free number “190” appears to be one of the most popular telephone numbers in the country.
According to the IEC the volume of phone calls started to increase significantly last month after candidates had completed filing their nominations for the 20 August presidential and provincial council elections.
When the centre was upgraded at the end of April it was receiving some 7,000 calls a week.
“We expect the number to go up further after the final list of candidates is announced (on 12 June),” said Shafi Jalali, the head of the IEC’s Public Outreach Department.
The call centre has been set up at the headquarters of the Roshan cellular phone company with assistance from the elections support project of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP/ELECT).
Thirty staff answer calls in Dari and Pashto from across the country in three shifts of six hours each from six in the morning until midnight.
They attended a fifteen day training course from the IEC and UNDP/ELECT before being deployed to the call centre.
Even before its upgrade in April, the centre already existed with a total of eight operators and two supervisors from 21 September 2008.
Most of the questions received are related to the election date, the candidates, the security situation, voter registration, polling centres and the logos of the candidates.
According to one operator, Mohammad Jalal, most of the people calling the centre are ordinary people, though “important people” like election candidates also call.
“They even ask for the phone numbers and address of individual candidates,” said Hamauoon Masudy, another operator. “Then, we tell them our service only includes providing public information, not personal details. And, some of them – especially the illiterate ones – get disappointed.”
Mr Jalali of the IEC said the call centre has been an effective means of public outreach to pass on electoral related information and motivate 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.”
The call centre operators said even some people identifying themselves as members of the Taliban have called them to try to discourage them from doing their job.
“When such people call, we cut the line thinking that it’s just waste of time,” said Mr Jalal, adding that each operator receives about five to ten such calls everyday.
“They say “why are you working for the IEC?” Then, they threaten us,” he added.
The centre was in also in operation during the last elections in Afghanistan in 2004 and 2005.
“Since the job involves talking over the phone continuously for hours, it gets tedious sometimes,” said operator Mr Masudy. “But, we are very happy to serve the people. It makes the people aware about the polls.”
By Tilak Pokharel, UNAMA