Internet and democracy, empowering citizens to promote transparency and fairness in elections

From Kenya to Iraq to Sudan, several countries have tackled the challenge of organizing an election as a step towards a “democratic transition”.  However, guaranteeing the transparency and fairness of the election process has been one of the most serious challenges face these countries.

Building on other successful experiences where the internet has been used to empower the citizen to enhance the public service such as Miami 311 service or to effectively provide humanitarian support such as  Ushahida project in Kenya and Haiti, I’m proposing a model that leverage the power of the internet to enhance the level of transparency in an election process in such countries by empowering the citizens of these countries.

Before describing the model, let’s review some common features among the elections in these countries that has just started its “democratic transition”:

  • Because it is their first election in many years, these countries lack the proper institutions needed to guarantee the transparency and fairness of the election.
  • Usually, the government and political parties establish what supposed to be an independent body to supervise the election process such as the Election Commission in Iraq and Sudan.
  • The level of citizens’s trust in this commission varies depending on the political situation in the country.
  • Depending on several factors such as the country size and population, the government, opposition, candidates, local NGOs and even international observers might not be able to offer the needed resources to effectively monitor the entire election process.

Under these circumstances, i believe that citizens can be the most effective observer in the election process , empowering the citizen will boost the chances to have a fair and transparent election .

But, how to do that? Following are the main points in my proposal:

  • An online surveillance center (website) should be established and managed by an NGO that has a good reputation among the citizens.
  • Citizens should be offered channels to report any suspicious behavior in the election. These channels should include:
    • SMS to a mobile number.
    • Email
    • Phone/Fax
    • Reporting on the website directly
    • All the possible social media services such as Twitter and Facebook.
  • Reported violaitons should be supported with evidences in all formats (images, audios, videos etc..) when available.
  • All received claims should be instantly presented on the website.
  • The presentation of the claims on the website should be mainly on a map. The website should offer a map of the whole country, each received claim should be plotted on the map in its real geographic location with some details such as: date/time of the claim,  exact location (city, town, election center), type of the claim etc…
  • As a claim is being received and plotted on the country map, the independent “election commission” should act immediately and do the required investigation.
  • Each claim plotted on the map should have a “status” to tell the citizens whether it was solved and “closed” or still “open”.

So , the website should act as a 24/7 monitoring screen where all citizens will have the chance to instantly monitor what is happening during the election on the ground across their country.

How would this make a difference?

Of course it is not a perfect proposal, certain proportion of the claims might be “fake” but the real value of this mechanism is that  it will give the citizens a tool or a channel to speak out and to see that their concerns are broadcast not only to the authorities or the election commission but to the whole nation and the whole world. More important, this channel will empower them with the ability to monitor the status of their claim and figure out whether the required investigations have been carried out or not. This is transparency!

Over time and as the citizen participation increases horizontally (the ares of the country covered) vertically (types of reported violations) and as the the tool start gaining credibility, it can be  a popular measure of the level of the fairness of the election, a tool that the authorities can’t ignore. Hopefully, the website would encourage (or push!) the authorities towards more effective efforts to guarantee that appropriate investigations are carried out in response to the reported violations. That is fairness!

Ibrahim

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6 responses

  1. Ibrahim, I think your ideas for citizen monitoring are very good. I was wondering if you had considered the benefits and disadvantages of anonymizing the information – people should be free to report what they see w/o threat of reprisal, but this may also flood the site with false, partisan claims. Still, I would be in favor of the information being anonymous. An investigation can quickly identify false claims.

    • Thanks Jush for your valuable comment, and I totally agree with you on the possible negative impact of anonymous informations which is a drawback of this model. However, requiring citizens to identify themselves while reporting a violation “might” not give them the needed incentive to participate. I believe that as more citizens participate in the process, fake claims can be isolated and the credibility of the information will continue rising.

  2. One must not compare a western or European democratic election to one held in African/Arab countries. These countries have lived under a repressed regime for years and the mentality of the people living in these countries have adjusted accordingly. ‘Democratic’ practices will most likely not work in these countries if forced onto them. Nor any form of monitoring will work in my opinion. Public opinion in these regions are dictated to the people through . Fear, Bad economic condition, self will, childhood up bringing, force, bribery. And any attempt to introduce foreign observers will be met with resistance from these powers and in turn force the people to resent these observers.

    – Reported violation monitoring will never be allowed to be documented
    – Assuming some claims went through, what online site will these claims be presented on? a local site controlled by whom? An international site can be refuted by the Sudanese government as falsified propaganda if it is negative which will eventually not affect the outcome of the election
    – People investigation claims, most likely local would most likely be the ones ensuring these fraud are commited

    • Thanks Rayyis for your time reading the post and writing your comment and i have to say that i agree with “most” of what you said about the political practices in the Arab world. However, I respectfully disagree with your judgment for the following reasons:
      – What i’m suggesting here is not proposed for the European democratic at all. Why? because i understand the situation in our countries are different.
      – I differentiate between “election” and “democracy”, the first is just a step as i said in a long painful process called “democracy”.
      – In the “transition” period, you need to “convince” the people to “vote”, to “speak out”, to “change” or at least try changing, but people in such countries are not used to do that. In addition and as you said, other factors will dis-ecourageme them to do so. That’s why exactly i wrote this post! I believe in the power of the internet and social media, and i believe that because of social media, government lost their privilege of exclusively create, share or ban information.

      People in such transition phase need any tool to help them, and i believe social media can help. Of course, there are many “details” need to be discussed but these details vary from one country to another.

      Ibrahim

  3. Thanks Jush for your valuable comment, and I totally agree with you on the possible negative impact of anonymous informations which is a drawback of this model. However, requiring citizens to identify themselves while reporting a violation “might” not give them the needed incentive to participate. I believe that as more citizens participate in the process, fake claims can be isolated and the credibility of the information will continue rising.

    Ibrahim

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