People or Professional Politicians? Madrid Hackers try Direct Democracy in Troubled Europe

In the May municipal elections this year, PM Mariano Rajoy’s conservative People’s Party (PP), lost control of local government in Madrid to the Ahora Madrid platform backed by Podemos, a leftwing challenger in Sunday’s potentially transformative general election in Spain.

AhoraMadrid : Madrid has one of highest penetrations of smartphone in the world (Credit screengrab AlJazeera)

AhoraMadrid : Madrid has one of highest penetrations of smartphone in the world (Credit screengrab AlJazeera)

This recent Al Jazeera TV documentary shows how since Ahora Madrid came to power, it has sought to use technology to replace representative democracy in Spain by direct or people’s democracy.

Rebel Geeks – Hacking Madrid published to YouTube December 15 by Al Jazeera English

It is a bold experiment at bringing more democracy to policy-making in a nation of smartphone addicts, but as the report suggests there are many obstacles. Not the least is that Ahora Madrid Mayor Manuela Carmena lacks a majority at City Hall. Furthermore the documentary raises more questions than it answers about the risks and safeguards involved in trying to bypass the entrenched professional politicians. Podemos is an anti-austerity leftwing challenger led by university lecturer Pablo Iglesias.

The Madrid experiment in direct vs representative democracy emerged directly from the 2011 Indignados movement of citizens angered by Spanish economic disarray, high unemployment and political and financial corruption. The Indignados, whose ideas quickly spread to France and elsewhere in a battered Europe, had been sparked by the criminal manipulations of banksters and financial sociopaths who destroyed the global economy in 2007.

The dangers to democracy of this destruction were predicted here by UK economist Andrew Lillico and others, as we reported at the time.

Whatever the outcome, technology — smartphones and the Internet –appears to offer opportunities to bypass professional politicians and the powerful corporate and financial lobbies that have captured them and distorted the platforms electorates voted for.

The Al Jazeera documentary offers an interesting insight into one effort at returning power to the peoples of Europe in the current turbulent and increasingly autocratic environment engendered by European Union bureaucrats in Brussels. But it is not a bed of roses.

As Alice Nicolov writing in Open Democracy notes:

“…The most serious issue- that of the development of an ‘internet dictatorship’ – is picked up on and solutions for the less tech-savvy or those who don’t have access to smart phones and Wi-Fi are offered. The documentary does not, however, address what might happen if those most politically active online, the most vocal and strident in their beliefs, start to dominate the political landscape. Will only their voices be heard?

“Furthermore, if Ahora Madrid is going to be reliant on the voice of the people, how does it know who the people are on their platform? As time goes by can they maintain a broad spectrum of participation? Would the party end up talking only to its own supporters? This leads one onto the next issue, and the one most unsettling for me. While the film mentions that more extreme proposals are rejected, it does not say what might happen if a more radical administration were to take power. Would extreme views be given legitimacy by the platform? How could ‘mob rule’ be prevented?

“Finally, one would have expected the Decide Madrid website to have gone viral as a result of the Indignados movement. Instead the creators of the platform have been left scrambling for support in the weeks leading up to the elections. Why have those thousands of people who demonstrated in Puerta del Sol in 2011 not jumped on Ahora Madrid’s initiative? Clearly this is a concern for the organisers who resort to raiding the council’s database for public email addresses in order to widen the support base. This raises questions about data security and the privacy of the citizenry.”

Story: Ken Pottinger

Below is more reading from earlier French News Online reporting on the unresolved 2011 sovereign debt crisis still plaguing a Europe now faced by the additional complexities of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s moment of migrant madness.

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