Presidential Town Halls
In 2014, after more than a decade of conflict, Afghanistan faced yet another hurdle in its quest for enduring stability. The democratic election of a new president would need to reverse many of the setbacks that marred the first election in 2009. Low voter turnout, widespread ‘ballot stuffing’, intimidation and other forms of electoral fraud had left Afghans skeptical and distrustful of the process, their government, the political system and the influence of foreign powers. Lapis was tasked to help rebuild trust in the system and increase voter participation in the political process.
In its assessment of the 2009 elections, Lapis identified significant gaps that had existed in the coverage of and attention given to specific issues as well as target audiences that felt misrepresented by election news coverage. The concept of an on-the-road ‘Town Hall’ program was created in collaboration with the country’s only twenty-four hour news network, TOLOnews. Titled, People’s Voice, the nineteen-part town hall series focused on communities that were widely disenfranchised during the 2009 elections while addressing issues that resonated with all Afghans.
Lapis’ team of governance and elections experts worked hand-in-hand with TOLOnews’ production team, traveling to some of Afghanistan’s hard-to-reach communities, and providing platforms for audiences to air their concerns and debate issues. Strategic alliances were created with local government, tribal leaders and often the Afghanistan National Army in order to secure safety for all those who participated in the event.
Reactions to the Town Hall program were overwhelmingly positive, significantly bolstering confidence in the electoral process. 92 percent of participants described them as useful and relevant. Where participation was expected to be up to 100 strong, attendance at many of the events often touched 500.
Despite the strict guidelines for female participation in many rural areas, Lapis was able to engage women both as panelists and audience members – a first for many of the women involved.
Based on the successes of People’s Voice, Lapis was requested to conduct a follow-on series for the 2015 parliamentary elections. Another first for the format, the series will travel to all 34 provinces of Afghanistan – enabling those in even the most remote locations to participate in the country’s developing political process.