Centre for Monitoring Election Violence

Quick Look

An election watchdog group that monitors violence and voting irregularities to ensure an informed electorate.

Beginning Date: 
March 1, 1997
How many unique hits per month?: 
Project Scale: 
Specific Tools: 
Sri Lanka


Sanjana Hattotuwa is a senior researcher at the Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA), an organization that was one of the the founding members - along with Free Media Movement(FMM) and Coalition Against Political Violence(CAPV) - of the Centre for Monitoring Election Violence (CMEV) in Sri Lanka in 1997. CMEV has since become the country's leading organization in reporting about election-related violence and voting irregularities Sri Lanka.

In his own words, their approach has been to gather information from ground-zero, cross-verify, and 'name and shame' candidates and political parties involved in any kind of malpractice, including violence, by publishing detailed information to help voters make informed decisions. CMEV works round the clock during election time, constantly verifying and publishing reports as they are submitted. They use a combination of maps, audio podcasts and blog posts to stimulate debate and inspire pubic interest, while archiving information for further use in research and review.



What are the biggest obstacles to your success?: 

The biggest thing, is the fear of fatigue setting in within the voters, and journalists. Although, we provide very detailed information, packaged in a very nice way, the question that can always be raised is, does it affect systematic change? Do the voters really take an informed decision, by virtue of CMEV's work in monitoring and reporting?

How do you plan on overcoming those obstacles?: 

By better and more intensive use of technology, and propagation to raise further awareness and promote informed decisions so that the monitoring and reporting that is done affects a better electoral process.

What problem is your project aiming to overcome?: 

The idea is to monitor every small and major election - from local to parliamentary to presidential elections - for reports violence, and to publish cross-checked, verified reports on events like violence, threats, murder, poll-rigging and other such malpractices and irregularities. We publicly ‘name and shame’ the individuals or parties involved, to enable the voters to make an informed choice, when they go out to cast their ballot.

What are the roots of that problem?: 

The roots of the problem stem from the generic tendency toward pre-election and election-day violence in, Sri Lanka, compunded by the lack of proper electoral reforms and laws that make transparency and accountability mandatory.

Are you providing unofficial channels of information that should be provided by the government?: 

We publish and distribute information on the candidates that engage in electoral violence, including details of the vehicles that have been used for the same, the nature of media coverage they get – whether it’s biased towards one particular party, etc. We plot these on the map of Sri Lanka, and produce podcasts in Sinhalese, Tamil and English in the run-up to and during the elections. We also produce reports, press-releases, maps and web-documentation, on the nature of the elections.

Why is the government not providing the information?: 

The government doesn’t provide any information whatsoever, regarding election violence, as the government of the day, being a political party, has some of the worst violators or instigators of violence. They have vested interests in having an ignorant electorate.

Is there a freedom of information law in the country where this project is based?: 
Is there a right to information law in the country where this project is based?: 
How does the information published on your website turn into offline change?: 

Although, all the reports have been available in textual version since 1997, the introduction of the violence-maps, done with the help of Google Maps, have witnessed a dramatic increase in interest, amongst people and the media. During the most recent presidential elections itself, the maps received 21,000 views on election day. That's a qualitative difference that lets people visualize what’s happening, and prompts the domestic and international media to raise questions as to why so much violence is happening in a certain area.

Our podcasts, since their introduction, have seen similar interest, as they are often quoted in news and media reports. They also double as an audio archive for subsequent research, on a particular election by political science researchers, for example. So, CMEV's information and reports are useful in the run-up to the elections, during the elections and also after the elections for research or post-study purposes.

What is an example of how information on your website has led to a concrete change?: 

It was in the late 90s, in one of the worst elections in Sri Lanka which was marred with a lot of violence that the government, through our monitoring, declared the results void, and announced a fresh re-election. Our reports cannot be brushed aside, as they are very detailed and duly cross-verified before the press-release. So, there is action on the ground taken if our monitoring proves the use of violence during elections.

How many people work on your project?: 
How many hours a week do you personally spend on the project?: 

24 hours, in the run-up to, and during the elections!

How many hours does the whole team spend on the project?: 


What are the most time consuming tasks?: 

Plotting the map with incidents of violence that go up to hundreds in numbers, in the run-up to the elections - and on election day - is a back-breaking job. Sometimes, there are remote villages in Sri Lanka, which are not even found on Google Maps. So locating and plotting them is even more difficult. Even if it takes 5 minutes to map one such case, hundreds of cases of information are pouring in, which makes it a never-ending, labour-intensive process.

How do you extract value from large amounts of data? How do you build engagement around it?: 

You can see a clear pattern, from the monitoring and mapping we have done over the last couple of years, where it’s visible, as to, which candidates or political parties, have a higher tendency to break election regulations, or law, engaging in election-time violence. You can extract these patterns, in the course of time, so that helps in further monitoring and subsequent study and research.

How do you verify the identities of participants on your website?: 

Since, the website cannot segregate data, by say, affiliations or gender, it’s difficult for us to know, about the kind of people that access the site. But, the domestic traffic goes up immensely, especially on the day of the election, and then shows a reduction, after that. A lot of the visitors to the site, are people from abroad, who look it up, mainly, for research and data.

How do you attract new participants?: 

Media plays a very important role, as all our press conferences give out our web-address, Facebook, Twitter and blog links, which also makes it easy, to index it through Google. We are very visible through all the channels we use, including things like our Facebook fan page.

What has been the most effective method of spreading awareness about your project?: 

Mainly through the web, and the use of new media technology. Besides the 10,000+ press-releases that are sent out, which read by approximately 20,000 people both domestically and internationally, what has really generated interest and added viewership is the use of newer media technologies like maps, podcasts, blogs, and social networking sites, like Facebook and Twitter. We are of course, still in the learning process of finding newer ways to achieve more awareness.

What are your biggest referrers? Where does most of your traffic come from?: 

Google and kottu.org.

Has legal action been taken against your website?: 


What metrics do you use to judge your own success?: 

Through the number of page views, views for the maps leading up to and on election day, the number of listeners to our podcasts, or those, who see our Flickr page and photos of election violence and malpractices. Also, the number of times CMEV reports or content is republished in mainstream print media, or that key CMEV personnel are interviewed or featured on mainstream television and radio. The number of attendees from domestic and international media to our press conferences leading up to and on election day, feedback received via email and the website, undocumented feedback, anecdotal in nature, via voice calls to key CMEV personnel, blogs and responses on the Internet to our content.

What skills and expertise would be of assistance to your project?: 

As violence monitoring can be a dangerous thing on the ground, they need to understand the repercussions of their job well, beforehand. They need to be neutral while reporting, and stand up to violence, observe and report. Although, they don’t need to be conversant in English, they need to know, how to use technology like phones for easier and faster reporting.

How do you plan on financially sustaining your project? : 

CMEV’s funding comes, mostly, only during the elections. During the times between elections, it is difficult to sustain. Although, there is a lot of work to be done in those times like analyzing, archiving and data processing, there is a lack of funding for which we hope to pursue a more sustainable funding plan.

What other organizations are you working with?: 

Primarily, the Informed Human Rights Documentation Centre.

Have you thought about developing your own tools?: 

We do plan to expand and innovate new tools, similar to the ones, used by different platforms in other countries, like, Ushahidi and Frontline SMS, which address issues that pertain to local problems and contextual situations in Sri Lanka.

Has there been any communication between your project and government officials?: 

Absolutely. We are in constant exchange of letters to the election commissioner, which becomes a part of our official record of communication. We are also constantly in touch with the political parties themselves, although, they sometimes, accuse us of being biased/prejudiced. However, some of the discussions with them, have borne fruit. They have responded if they have been informed about certain incidents of their people’s involvement in violence.

Are there any legal obstacles to your work? Any laws that should be changed?: 

Electoral reforms, which have been in constant question, have not really taken place in Sri Lanka. Legislations that make political funding transparent and accounted for and right to information laws have been on the table for discussion for a long time now, but none of them have been passed, so far. A change in these laws will go a long way, in helping improve the election process.

Have there been any attempts to replicate your work elsewhere?: 

Not to our knowledge, although, we are very keen to help anyone willing to take it up with our expertise and experience.

What other projects in your region should we know about?: 

An award-winning Citizen Journal initiative started in 1997, called Groundviews, and also, an equivalent called Vikalpa. There is also, Perambara, which gathers provincial news.

If someone gave you $30,000 how would you use the money?: 

It has been amply proven in our case, and around the world that new, alternative technologies have been of immense importance in this kind of work. The money would help, further develop such tools, platforms and technologies.

What are your plans for 2010 and 2011?: 

There are no elections this year in Sri Lanka after April. During that time, we want to develop new tools for better monitoring. We also want to use the opportunity to become a centre and a source for historical, archival and research-oriented information, as far as elections are concerned, which helps improve our understanding of the electoral process and to suggest legislative reforms.

Further Questions

What are the roots of so much violence during elections in Sri Lanka?

Winning gives the individuals or the parties unrivaled power, which becomes a powerful motivating factor for them to go all out and practice violence to ensure victory. So historically, although the frequency and the regularity with which elections have been held in Sri Lanka gives it democratic credibility, violence has been an integral part, whether between rivals or even between two candidates within the same party, if they are contesting from the same geographical proximity or dislike each other. Some elections, though, have been better than the others, and in some we have had to request the government for re-polling because of excessive violence.

Why do you think, there was need for a project like this?

There is a basic fundamental need in democracy, for the voter to be informed when deciding who they are going to elect to the public office. If the candidates are of the nature who indulge in violence – killing each other and other electoral malpractices with scant regard to the rule of law - then the voter has to question his suitability to office. We report, during the run-up and during the elections, as frequently and accurately as possible so that the voter, armed with this information in the public domain, can make an informed decision on his ballot.

How is information gathered on the incidences of election violence?

We have trained mobile election monitors on the ground, who go around and visit different constituencies, electoral regions, polling units/centres, etc., and report on various incidents of violations and violence to our headquarters in Colombo, where information is first verified, and then released to the local and international media.

Has the project increased civic engagement, as a participatory process, toward better electorate decision-making?

As a monitoring organization, it’s our job, to present information to the voters, who take their decisions in casting their ballot, based on our reports. It’s difficult to know, whether that translates into civic engagement. We can only judge by the interest shown in our reports, maps, podcasts, etc.

Through an analysis of our archived information, and the corresponding exit-polls, one can find out, if the voting pattern was influenced by our monitoring process and information given out.

How has the use of modern tools or technology, contributed to CMEV’s work?

It allows for a more responsive, creative and free way of gathering, processing and putting out information in the public domain. Technology helps us get information more quickly and easily through videos, on-the-street interviews in sudden situations, and then to quickly process and distribute them through maps, podcasts, and blogs without having to wait for the print media to produce and publish.

New media also allow for more interesting and visually well-packaged information in the form of videos and maps, podcasts and blogs, and not just the conventional text method. So the level of interest in such incidents remains engaged. Also, for many people the web, blogosphere, and mobile phones are now their primary sources of gathering such information.


Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd> <img> <h1> <h2> <h3> <h4> <h5> <pre>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.

More information about formatting options