This is not the first time I’ve helped plot violence related to elections in Sri Lanka. In my first post I noted that the map helped journalists better understand the degree of violence on the ground. Things are no better in the lead-up to the Western Provincial Council elections.
Just like previous maps, this map is so packed with incidents of violence that you need to zoom into some places (e.g. Horana) to see the degree of violence on the ground. Shooting, arson, intimidation, assault, looting are common.
Must democracy countenance the worst of us in public office? How can we improve, through civic education using mobiles and the web, voters more informed about key issues, candidates, their positions and political parties that are contesting?
Kantipur in Nepal ran a comprehensive website in Nepali featuring information on candidates during their key Constituent Assembly Elections in 2004, interviews with them and their stances regarding vital policy issues. I don’t see a comparable effort here. Some leading bloggers have made an effort to interview som candidates and candidates themselves have leveraged web media (including Facebook), but overall there is little real awareness about the (oftentimes criminal and sordid) history of candidates.
I feel that election violence can only be addressed if voter education results in the electoral defeat of those who indulge in such activities. For example, Vote Report India powered by Ushahidi is a great example of just how vexing elections in the world’s largest democracy can be.
But unless awareness campaigns before an election, and advocacy campaigns after which bring to light, including name and shame, perpetrators of elections violence, these exercises alone, including my own, have little chance of really strengthening democracy. The problem with raising awareness before an election is that NGOs can never match the reach of an incumbent government’s propaganda, or even that of a political party, both of which have vested interests in keeping the public ignorant about the history of candidates and their violence.
The problem with post-election advocacy is that placing the violence of winners in public scrutiny will almost always be (a) seen as a conspiracy to undermine the legitimacy of their victory (b) cast as a rival party political bid to discredit the electoral victory and the ‘will of the people’ (c) be seen as some sort of NGO / civil society campaign to discredit the winners.
Technology alone then is no guarantee of cleaner elections. But technology can be part of the solution.