Election Observation in Lebanon - Mobilized, Part 2

Posted by KatrinVerclas on Jun 07, 2009

Sharek961 is another effort in Lebanon to monitor the election there today on June 7. Unlike LADE which uses more than 2,000 trained volunteer election monitors to systematically report from polling stations throughout the day, Sharek961 aims to get ordinary Lebanese citizen to text, call, and email in incidences from polling stations, crowdsourcing the conduct of the critically important election there.

According to Sharek961's press release, 

"Sharek961.org [is[... empowering citizens to report in Arabic and in English, through four means; SMS, email, Twitter and web reports. Reports can address anything election-related happening around the country, from political rallies and polling queues to vote-buying and violence. Sharek961 anonymously publishes these reports alongside news reports, blog posts, photos, videos and tweets, on an interactive map, making them publicly available to all citizens, media outlets, and organizations."

Sharek961 notes that it

"does not attempt to verify reports and makes no claims as to their accuracy; as a neutral platform it publishes all material reports without editorial or censorship. The project merely seeks to contextualize reports against various sources of information, such as reports from other citizens and the news media, official observation groups, and images and videos, in order to provide users with tools for understanding."

As we described, the highly contested and sectarian parliamentary election in Lebanon hinges largely between a contest of the Western-backed ruling coalition, predominantly made up of Sunni Muslim, Christian and Druze parties, against the Hezbollah-led opposition, composed of Shia Muslims and Christians. According to IRIN,

"Lebanon is home to 18 official sectarian groups, or ‘confessions’, and still bears the painful scars of a 1975-1990 civil war that split the country under predominantly confessional lines. An assessment of the law published by Democracy Reporting International (DRI) and the Lebanese Association for Democratic Elections (LADE) concluded that the law “accentuates confessional divisions" and increases “the long-term potential for conflict in the country”. The report found that the new division of electoral districts essentially created 13 “mono-confessional” districts, whereby all lawmakers there belong to a single confessional group and where electorates are relatively homogenous."

Sharek961, built on the open-source Ushahidi mapping platform, was developed by a group of volunteers, using FrontlineSMS as the SMS reception software for submissions via text. With the election nearing its end on Sunday afternoon, however, Sharek961 received only a little more than 100 citizen submissions. 

Sharek961 also aggregates reports from LADE (which we described previously) that has a systematic, large-scale election observation effort underway (and that is mapping the observation reports on its own site), as well as newsaper reports and other, non-crowdsourced, data. 

As with many of the Ushahidi deployments for crowdscourced incidence reporting, one of the challengesis publicizing the information about the site to a broad public.  The few incidences reported on Sharek961 during the election from citizens are not sufficient to get an impression of the conduct of the election, unfortunately.  

Sharek means 'participate' in Arabic, and 961 is the telephone country code for Lebanon.

Another challenge in citizen monitoring efforts is the inability to sufficiently verify any data (to the extent that is comes in from the public in sufficient numbers) and thus the danger that especially in a highly contested and potentially fraught election, these systems can be abused in favor of one or the other political faction with so-called 'poison data'.  While this is an issue that efforts such as Swift River are trying to address, it is currently unresolved. 

Systematic election observation efforts with trained local volunters are less prone to poison data, especially in highly-contested elections.  

However, both LADE and Sharek961 have the potential to be tainted as 'partisan."  LADE was accused of being too close to the Western-backed governing coalition, and similarly, key volunteers from Sharek961 have ties to a large Lebanese newspaper that backs the same. 

With polling stations now closed, the next days will be critical to sort the close election results.  Schools are closed on Monday and there is a curfew in effect.

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Sharek's response

To update the post, Sharek961 published a detailed response to my article here.  Thanks!

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