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Interview with Vote Bangladesh

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In our country there are a lot of problems pertaining to elections our democratic process is not that effective there is a lack of transparency and accountability and in many cases the wrong kind of people get voted to power Our political system is somewhat tainted We have been worried about these issues for a long time now So we thought that we as responsible citizens should take some initiative and do something about this So what we did was in 2003 when we had the local Union Parishad elections We realized that the problem was that there was a dearth of good, worthy candidates and even if there were honest, worthy candidates, they were not getting voted into power as people did not know about them people cast their votes for candidates for various reasons - being lured by money, brow-beaten by political muscle for various such reasons, honest, worthy candidates were not being able to get elected. So we thought, let us start off at the grassroots level and see if we can do something so that honest, deserving candidates can get elected In 2003, before the Union Parishad elections, we went to the villages and asked the people: The Union Parishad elections are coming, do you feel these are important elections? They said, "of course!" Then we asked them, "What kind of candidates would you like to see fielded? What kind of representatives would you like to have?" Based on these conversations, we prepared a questionnaire and with the help of our volunteers in 55 of the unions (we are a totally volunteer- based organisation) we prepared candidate profiles and put them up as posters in various places within the unions/ areas. Not only that, they got the candidates to meet the voters face to face Voters asked them questions, the candidates answered them and at the same time candidates explained to voters why they should be elected and this led to a buzz. At the village/ union level, since everybody knows everybody else, people became more aware of about the histories of the candidates that this candidate has given a bribe, this candidate has not furnished correct information, this candidate has given confusing information and this kind of buzz helped create a greater awareness amongst the voters about tthese candidates and this generated a good response from amongst the voters and the voters became more aware. making voters more aware and informed, engaging them, creating a buzz among them - in village tea stalls, places where villagers congregate in those places this initiative of ours led to a lot of active discussions and debates and though this a kind of public consensus or opinion was formed with respect to the various candidates and we saw a reflection of this in the election results. In the 55 places where we did this activity, we saw that relatively better people were elected to office. Thus it played an important role in creating a new kind of political culture. after this we conducted a survey in these 55 unions and found that a significant number of voters had changed their voting preferences on the basis of this information - and this is important - if even 2% or 3% voters change their voting preferences, it can turn the outcome of an election upside down. We are very encouraged and motivated by this and we felt really proud that we made a difference. This was something pathbreaking...now it has become institutionalised. Institutionalised in the sense that it has become compulsory to divulge this information. But without our activism this information will not reach the people and the information will not be helpful in informing and empowering the citizens. and most importantly, though it is true that the Election Commission is collecting this information and putting it up on the website These affidavits are not meaningful to the ordinary citizen If you put up the data of all candidates but as a voter if you cannot see a comparative picture or analysis of the data of all candidates of your constituency in front of you, at a glance then it will not really empower you in any way. The VoteBD site has a module, a dynamic module where all these candidate profiles are being entered and a comparative statement is being generated this is being made possible due to the Vote BD module and by seeing this comparative picture on the website, a voter can very easily identify that out of the, say, 5 candidates contesting from my constituency, which one is better So we present the information in this simple manner. Quite a bit of research is done by us here which other organisations, print and other media or even the Election Commission is not doing. On VoteBD you will find an archive about corruption in politics Here we collate corruption-related news daily from various daily newspapers and store them in this section. so that anyone can access this information easily from our site and get a holistic picture other than this we have a forum - Shujan forum at shujan.org/forum where people can also give their comments they can give us feedback through our feedback form In 2007 what we did was we took the voter list that the Election Commission had prepared in 2000, and published the database on our website after converting it and making it suitable for the web format in this way we made available the list of 7.5 crores (about 75 million) of voters. The objective of doing that was to show that the voter list can be made accessible through the web and by doing so, the voter list can be made both transparent and controversy-free at the time, the voter list was mired in controversies. It wasn't error-free. Even after 3-4 iterations, people got excluded from the list. It was not regularly updated. So we felt that in keeping with the times we need to make it available on the web so that it is more accessible so we did that through VoteBd by makeing the voter list available to the public. I want to add here that because of this initiative, some major electoral steps were taken. For the first time in Bangladesh, voter ID cards with photographs were introduced and a permanent voter list database was created. In the past, a new voter list used to be created before every election and it led to a lot of problems and a lot of controversies. For the first time we have dared to solve the problem and we showed the path - Shujan showed the path. Our civic role is that through activism we work...we address both demand side as well as supply side. we create demand for reforms. We create demands for transparency. We create demands for accountability. We create demand for clean elections we create demand for effective leaders. At the same time we also provide supply of ideas, show the path like in the case of the voter-list or in the area of information disclosure. In our country many important steps have been taken under the last care-taker government and we generated those ideas Not only that, we drafted the law and gave that draft to the Election Commission and they accepted most of our ideas because we generated the citizens' demand for it. So not only we generated ideas but also generated citizens' demand for it a large-scale public awareness was created due to these initiatives of ours. We played a significant role. Now we want to play a significant role towards democratic consolidation. An effective, democratic citizen, obviously this is the vision - encompassing fair elections the combing of various institutions, the combing of the electoral process, transparent governance, people's participation decentralization, a whole host of areas and one of the most important aspects of our work is citizens' awareness creation and activism.

Video Details

Duration: 10 minutes and 32 seconds
Country: United States
Language: Bengali
Views: 97
Posted by: techfortransparency on Dec 21, 2010

Aparna Ray of the Technology for Transparency Network interviews Vote Bangladesh.

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