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