Sudan’s first multiparty elections in over two decades began yesterday (New York Times, Al Jazeera) despite the fact that the majority of opposition parties are boycotting the entire process.
The election — already marred by a lack of actual ballots, long waits at polling places and mix-ups in the symbols printed on the ballots (many voters are illiterate, and symbols are used to represent different parties and candidates) — is widely seen as a prelude to the upcoming referendum on the independence of Southern Sudan.
On Friday I spoke with Fareed Zein, who heads the Ushahidi-based project Sudan Vote Monitor. The project lets citizens report problems with access, illegal campaigning, voter harassment and other aspects of the election. So far the site has received over 100 reports in both English and Arabic (volunteers at Meedan are helping with translation). Zein, who was busy working to get an SMS short code set up and doing some last-minute testing, spoke a little bit about his hopes for the impact of Sudan Vote Monitor:
I would say even if the election doesn’t take place we’ve already made history, and that’s not to say that that’s where we’ll stop, but this is a groundbreaking undertaking. We’ve already done a big service to just introduce the concept, introduce the possibility.
Other groups have specific activist motivations. They have a different tack. Ours is just getting access to information because the Sudanese people as well as the rest of the world have not had that in previous events. Others will take that to the next level and try to apply pressure for change.
You can read the whole interview and listen to the podcast of our chat at the Technology for Transparency Network.