Lebanon’s IMPACT Open Data platform can be a useful tool for addressing civilian needs and narrowing the gap between government and people.
But, while such an extensive database can have significant social and developmental benefits on various levels, it could also be easily exploited for political reasons.
Lebanon’s Election Game
Especially in the run-ups to elections, politicians and political parties in Lebanon are known to use social support activities, welfare programs, and favors on people in need, in an effort to recruit them or, at least, pocket their votes.
These political agendas may be taken to a new level with a large database such as the IMPACT Open Data platform, which encompasses an increasing number of sectors and provides a rich repository of readily accessible information about a variety of issues affecting people across the country.
For instance, IMPACT includes a data section dedicated to displaying information on vulnerable households across Lebanese regions and municipalities.
The section has general data such as an overview of the total number of households in need of aid, as well as more detailed information about the areas that have the highest number of underprivileged people, based on aid forms submitted to the Ministry of Social Affairs by mayors and municipalities.
A politician or a party that intends to leverage this information to boost their popularity or expand their influence into new areas could arguably do so with an easiness that wasn’t available before.
To give an example, a political party might launch a pre-election social aid campaign targeting one or more underdeveloped villages with food rations, job opportunities, and other benefits, in exchange for political allegiance.
This is not a far-fetched scenario, as it has happened repeatedly in previous elections, and it happened without the presence of such an open database as IMPACT.
The critical field of rural development, which the IMPACT platform also has extensive data about, is another potential target for publicity campaigns and aid programs run by political bodies.
This data section gives a good idea of the developmental needs of 1,128 surveyed Lebanese towns (as of the time of writing), including in terms of education, employment, energy supply, water networks, sewage treatment, and various infrastructure.
Villages with pressing, unanswered needs are more likely to be tapped by wealthy politicians who might resort to building schools and hospitals; establishing new businesses and services; renovating and repairing existing houses, businesses, and institutions; and addressing infrastructure needs.
In doing so, these politicians would not only be investing in pools of potential political backers that they can rely on for advancing their agendas and increasing their influence but also polishing their public image in an effort to generate more public support.
Needless to say, nothing can be done to prevent political parties or politicians – or anyone, for that matter – from accessing the information on IMPACT, let alone using it politically, as the purpose of the platform is to have its data open to all.
What can be done is raising awareness about such exploitative campaigns that peak in the time when political parties are arguably in their most vulnerable state — election time.