Democracy

Hacking Into Congress

“Honourable Member, would you be prepared to give up your vote if it meant you could represent us better?” That was the question which started it all. Eduardo Robles and David Ruescas, the founders of ‘Agora Voting’, attended an Open Meeting with Joan Baldoví, called by EQUO Madrid, to remind us why the initiative was born: to demonstrate that the exercise of political representation need not be what the traditional parties seem to think it is.

So we set to work. We wanted to show that democracy does not consist merely of voting once every four years, that we have the technology and the political culture to enable citizens to express their views instantly about what legislation our representatives should introduce and how they should do it. ‘Congreso Transparente’ is a tool used by the Agora Voting platform to consult the people and show what our member of parliament, Joan Baldovi, is doing in Congress. The first experiment concerned the final debate on the Transparency Bill and the second, the latest legislative reform of the Spanish electricity sector.

In both cases, our website explained the principal contents of the legislative texts so as to inform the people about the different positions and the amendments to the bill being discussed. By using a validated registration (a scanned DNI or electronic signature), everyone who is entitled to vote could vote for the amendments they thought most appropriate, even if they were not members or supporters of ‘Coalición Compromís’ or EQUO. In the debates, the Member of Parliament adopted the stance which reflected the peoples’ vote.

Adapting the Parties

Does this demonstrate that direct democracy is possible? Not exactly, it is just our modest contribution to filling a gap which is widening every day. We want to show that politicians should stop speaking FOR citizens and start speaking WITH them. It is true that, at election time, the political organisations introduce themselves with a programme, a manifesto, but no government has ever shown such contempt for the contract it offered its citizens as the Government of Mariano Rajoy.  However, we should not resign ourselves to voting every four years and expect an electoral programme to coincide completely with all our expectations. It is certainly possible for the majority of People’s Party (PP) voters to agree with the Government’s economic policy, but at the same time, disagree with the transparency of the Government over its planned reform of the electricity sector.

“What would happen if they all did that?” asked some, as if it were a threat, as if it would be a disaster. “Would it mean the end of political parties?” If they are determined to carry on operating as they have until now, it probably would. However, instead of discrediting this openness or looking the other way, they should investigate and try to adapt themselves to the requests for participation and openness from the people who elected them to the posts they occupy. Permanent delegation, adequate knowledge and the sovereignty of “ownership” are at stake, as posited by Antoni Gutiérrez-Rubí. We want to explore where those debates are going and formulate the response.

It has been encouraging to see how the teams of Agora, Compromís and EQUO have worked to achieve their objective.

Assessing the Experiment

Rather than focusing on the possible adverse consequences, I would like to focus on the lessons the experiment can teach us. Firstly, the value of co-operation, for without Agora Voting’s initiative, we’d probably just go on theorising about political participation. However, the Agora team is a good demonstration of how much talent and interest in politics there is outside the political organisations. It has been encouraging to see how the teams of Agora, Compromís and EQUO have worked to achieve their objective. There is no doubt that it has been hard, but at the same time, very gratifying.

Secondly, it’s clear that many reforms are needed, but we now have the tools to make a start – if we have the political will, we can do it. It’s not without risk, but we should be encouraged to at least give it a try – this is just the first step. We shall assess our progress share it with those institutions, parties, organisations and entities that are ready to make a start, so that the successes are more sustainable and mistakes can be corrected.

Thirdly, the parties and organisations will have to increase their legitimacy every day, not every four years, and will have to wake up, however much constitutional recognition they may have, if they want to be the tool with which collective projects are carried out. Our citizens, our men and women, are on the march.

In his book ‘El futuro lo decides tú’ [You decide the future], Zarin Dentzel says “success is achieved in a context of failure”. The PP’s absolute majority, our discredited institutions and the people’s disaffection with politics might make us think there’s no point in trying- but  that is not true. Now more than ever, people must take part. We’re already working on our new experiment; stay tuned!

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