09 Dec 2011

Massive Citizen Reporting Uncovers Electoral Violations in Russia

An article by Gregory Asmolov published on Global Voices emphasizes the role of citizens in uncovering numerous irregularities in the Russian Parliamentary elections last Sunday. According to the author, the use of technology made it possible to massively document evidence of election fraud and to question the legitimacy of the results.

In these elections, citizen-based reporting produced a mass of material, including documents, photos and videos registering practices to manipulate the results, and these were immediately made available to a large public online. This was possible due to increased involvement of citizens in the election process, for instance as voluntary observers to the election committees. This kind of participation allowed them to closely follow what went on and led to reports of fraud, such as in the case of an observer who identified inconsistencies between the original concluding report in his voting section and the results published online by the election authorities. Opposition politicians, political activists and monitoring organizations were also highly active in reporting online about the problems they encountered.

The scale of these reports and their increased visibility through the use of social media contributed to quickly spread the perception of manipulation in the election results. In the following day, opposers of Vladimir Putin and Russia’s ruling party, United Russia, took it to the streets to protest against the results, and hundreds of participants in the demonstrations were arrested.

Nevertheless, the same tools were at the disposal of those arrested to register their experiences live and broadcast it immediately on the internet. Opposition politician Ilya Ponomarev, for instance, recorded and broadcasted the moments he spent in a police station. Anti-corruption blogger Alexey Navalny (pictured here), arrested and sentenced to 15 days in prison last Tuesday, posted pictures from inside the car in which he and other detainees were transported by the police.

Citizen activism in the Russian case has set an example of how society can complement traditional media and help disseminate important information of political events, thereby contributing to keep the public administration in check.

Read the full article “Russia: Election and the ‘Other Side of Panopticon'” on globalvoicesonline.org. The picture of Mr. Navalny shown above is from bbc.co.uk and is credited to Reuters.