Mobile Apps for the 2015 Myanmar Elections
October 7, 2015
On September 27, 112 developers and designers gathered in Yangon for the finale of the MaePaySoh (Let’s Vote) Hack Challenge, a competition to develop web and mobile applications that provide voters access to essential information that will help them make more informed choices in Myanmar’s landmark general elections next month. Jointly supported by The Asia Foundation and the Australian government, the Hack Challenge was a central component of the Foundation’s MaePaySoh Initiative, which aims to tap the talents of local developers to make election information accessible to voters, many of whom will be voting for the first or second time in their lives.
For two weeks, 23 teams of developers worked long hours, coding through the night at the offices of our local partner, Phandeeyar, to transform a curated trove of data provided by the Foundation on parliamentary candidates, political parties, voters’ frequently asked questions, incumbent MP performance, as well as images of ballots, maps, and polling procedures into user-friendly applications for Myanmar voters.
As the 9 a.m. deadline approached, teams rushed to finish their applications and prepare their presentation for a first round of judging. After teams submitted 31 web and mobile applications for consideration, members of the MaePaySoh organizing team shortlisted the top 10 teams. They then faced a panel of five judges: Dr. Tun Thura Thet, chairman and founder of Myanmar Information Technology (MIT); Cindy Chaw Khin Khin, CEO of Myanmar Computer Company (MCC); Pwint Htun, director of Partners Asia; Thar Htet, founder and CEO of Zwenexsys; and Chan Nyein Aung, CEO of Charity Oriented Myanmar (COM), a civil society organization involved in election monitoring and voter education.
After intense deliberation, the judges awarded the top prize to Team PopStack, who developed an elegant and easy-to-use app called “mVoter2015” for Android and iOS platforms. The app allows voters to use their current location to determine the candidates running for the upper and lower houses of Myanmar’s Union Parliament, as well as those running for the state assembly.
With one tap, voters can learn about each of the 91 political parties contesting the election and access the various party platforms to gain a deeper understanding of what distinguishes one party from another. Another swipe and they can learn more about the electoral process, including how the parliaments are formed under the constitution, how the president is selected, and how to vote on Election Day.
Placing second in the competition, Mae, an Android application developed by Team SSYGM, was designed with a first-time, rural voter in mind. The Mae mobile app guides the user through a series of steps that helps voters find answers to questions about the voting process, the structure and composition of the legislative bodies, and the political parties. Additionally, the app not only makes it simple for the voter to find the candidates contesting his constituency, but it also allows a one-click comparison of candidates’ educational and occupational backgrounds as well as their prior performance in parliament. Mae also features a small game that allows the voter to practice stamping a sample ballot, to ensure that first-time voters will not see their votes invalidated for lack of knowledge.
Third place was awarded to Team Koe Koe Wave, who designed both a website and Android app to help voters check their name on the voter list, search for political party information, and browse the candidates by location and constituency, all using an intuitive and easy-to-use interface. Voters can also search for political parties that reflect the voter’s interest by searching for parties that include certain priorities in their published party platforms.
Judges also gave a nod to the web app Electroscope by Team Palartar, who developed and added their own data set using the official results of the 2010 general elections, and provided analytical information about the 2015 candidates and political parties. The app specifically targets journalists and researchers who want to delve into the details of how the parties are contesting the elections, the composition of their candidate pools, and in which states and regions, and which houses of parliament, the parties have focused their efforts.
While these apps will prove highly useful for voters looking for information on these elections, the five members of winning team – PopStack – are themselves barely old enough to vote, averaging just 18 years of age. The members of the other teams competing were not much older, and included two 12-year-old programmers who participated on a team led by their professor.
The youth and enthusiasm of the participants in the MaePaySoh Hack Challenge reflect the wellspring of talent in Myanmar available outside of the usual channels of political activism that may be effectively engaged and catalyzed. A number of the participants expressed a common sentiment – that their participation was motivated less by the prizes on offer than by the unique opportunity to use their skills to contribute to improving voters’ understanding of the electoral process and the importance of their choices in these historic elections.
Applications created for the MaePaySoh Hack Challenge will be showcased and available for download at MaePaySoh.org, and the winning applications will be disseminated for use by voters around the country by the Union Election Commission and the Foundation’s local partner organizations.
Susan Lee is a program manager for The Asia Foundation in Myanmar. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author, not those of The Asia Foundation.
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