RANGOON — With more than 6,000 candidates from over 90 political parties shaping up to compete in Burma’s rapidly approaching general election, local programmers are doing their bit to help make sense of it all.
Phandeeyar, a Rangoon-based technology organization that fosters social innovation, played host to the launch of the MaePaySoh (“Let’s Vote”) “hackathon” on Saturday, a competition encouraging local programmers to create apps and websites that will assist prospective voters to better understand and participate in the country’s Nov. 8 poll.
Over 100 software developers have signed up to participate in the MaePaySoh challenge, given access to reams of electoral data on registered voters, parties and candidates, that they will utilize in creating user-friendly software for voters.
The competition will run until Sept. 27, with the winner to receive US$4,000 and entry into Facebook’s “FBStart” Program, which provides startups with mentorship and $80,000 worth of software services, according to a statement by Phandeeyar.
Successful software will be showcased at MaePaySoh.org and available to download on the GooglePlay Store, the statement said.
Information on developing apps and websites is provided to developers through a MaePaySoh database, with digitized information on candidates, voter lists and parties also provided by the Union Election Commission, in collaboration with local technology startups Zwenexsys and Hexcores.
Information on current members of Parliament who are seeking reelection has been gathered and provided by the Open Myanmar Initiative to the 139 participating developers, who are split into 30 teams.
Mapping data is provided by the Myanmar Information Management Unit and a “frequently asked questions” section compiled by The Asia Foundation and Charity Oriented Myanmar.
“Having access to information is incredibly important for people to participate meaningfully in civic activities like elections,” Kim Ninh, The Asia Foundation’s Country Representative in Burma, said in a press release on Saturday.
“By making election information available digitally, we hope to create the opportunity for people to come up with innovative ways to distribute such information to the public in a country with such a fast growing rate of Internet access.”
Sandah Aung, a 32-year-old computer-programmer and English teacher, said he was moved to compete in order to create software that had a social impact and would help “attract voters to participate in the voting process.”
He has teamed up with 10 colleagues—two of whom are only 12 years old.
“The kids are my pupils,” he said. “And one of them has written apps for the Free Funeral Service Society.”
Sandah Aung said his team would consider how it could make it easier for voters to access information in order to make informed electoral choices.
“Voters need enough information to decide who they vote for. [We will assist] candidates and political parties to communicate their information to voters,” he said.
Yan Naung Oak, Phandeeyar’s program manager, said in a press statement that the competition aimed to tap into the dramatic growth in mobile phone users in the country.
“Tens of millions of people in Myanmar now have access to mobile phones, many of which are smartphones,” Yan Naung Oak said. “Apps and websites are a great way to provide voters with the information they need to participate in this election. The purpose of this competition is to build those apps and websites.”