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A Political Digital Revolution: Argentina’s New Model for Democracy

By Lucy Adler
Argentina Independent

Partido de la Red (PdlR) is unlike any political party you have come across before. They are a party of the present, looking to the future, who believe in using the tools of today – the internet and other technology – to radically change the current political system.

At the heart of the party is a belief that today’s political system no longer promotes democracy, and that to be truly democratic political parties should constantly consult and learn from public opinion.

Technology, they believe, makes a new level of public involvement possible and through their online platform Democracia.OS, they have created a tool capable of making this a reality. With 70% of homes in the City of Buenos Aires having access to the internet and that number rising all the time, PdlR believes the time is right for their digital revolution.

It works like this. PdlR posts all the laws being debated in the Legislature of the City of Buenos Aires (CABA) on its online platform, along with a concise summary of what each law proposes and an analysis of the pros and cons of passing them.

PdlR then invites the public to contribute to the decision making process by indicating, through voting online, whether or not they support the introduction of particular laws. Voters can also abstain. If, in the next local elections, PdlR win seats in the City Legislature, the party promises that its elected members will always vote in accordance with what the public has voted online.

The Indy had a chance to talk to Agustín Frizzera, Pia Mancini, Guido Vilariño, and Santiago Siri of PdlR to find out more about this intriguing group who want to bodly innovate where no man has innovated in a long time.

Why did you feel that something like Partido de la Red was necessary?

Pia: What unites us all as a team is a belief that the current system is no longer fit for purpose. From our point of view there is a serious representation crisis. Members of society are asking for greater involvement in politics and the current political system does not offer that. So that is what we want to change. We want to try and bridge the enormous gap between the current system and those whom it supposedly represents.

Agustín: The system we use today is barely different from that used in the 19th century, and even then theorists were warning that a lack of popular participation could lead to oppression of the majority or despotism. And we see this all over the world. So, what we need is a system that promotes greater participation. The internet has the potential to open up access to information, and yet we still have a system where if you want to challenge the laws being passed in the legislature, you have to physically turn up and demand that they take account of your opinion.

So how did you transform your sense of injustice into a practical solution?

Pia: We worked together to find a way to make better political decisions. We wanted to ensure that the people representing us were truly representing us, by involving people in the decisions that affect them. We started by designing and building the online Democracia.OS tool. At first, we thought that perhaps one of the political parties would start to use it, but then we realised that we had to use it first to demonstrate our commitment to it and to show why it was necessary.

So, we formed a political party as the link between the current system and a new way of working in which better decisions can be made. In October 2013, we ran in the Buenos Aires City Legislative Elections and we were very successful, especially for a new party. We obtained 22,000 votes [1.16%] and came second out of the local parties that ran and ninth out of 27 parties overall. I really think that running in the elections was the only way to put our point across.

Do you think that people are disengaged in politics becaused they feel that their opinion doesn’t matter, that they are powerless to change anything?

Guido: If you only vote every two years and then you only select the name of a party from various options, it follows that after a number of years you’ll come to feel that your vote doesn’t really count for anything and that you can’t change anything. We have, as a society, have come to accept a system which represents us in theory, but in practice just allows the groups in power to retain power.

It is a paradox. On the one hand we have a political system which requires very little interest or interaction, and on the other hand we have technology which has completely changed the way we interact. Now, we have a constant exchange of information online. We are constantly being challenged and asked for our opinion. And people connect to the internet every day, all the time. It is impossible for young people to imagine a world without internet. It has become a part of their daily lives. So if I can go online and take part in politics and express an opinion on policies that affect me, why wouldn’t I?

Instead of participating in the political process every two years, we want people to participate every two days or even every two hours. Technology makes it possible for us to do this.

Is the public really well enough informed to be making important decisions? Do they have time to analyse the consequences of passing new laws? Isn’t that why we delegate it to politicians?

Guido: If you are saying that the public doesn’t have the capacity or time to be politically informed, my answer is that the legislator is not necessarily well-informed either. A legislator always votes in line with his party. He doesn’t debate, he does what his party wants.

A legislator has advisors, but they too are aligned with a party and simply create arguments that allow the legislator to defend his position. On the other hand, citizens are naturally sceptical about issues and have access to a wide range of information. If a legislator has five or six advisers, a member of the public has access to thousands of advisors, presenting all possible points of view.

Pia: The problem that we have is that political parties are not making decisions for the good of the community and citizens know that the decisions political parties make are not at all in their interests.

PdlR explain their proposal on the subte (photo courtesy of Partido de la Red)
PdlR explain their proposal on the subte (photo courtesy of Partido de la Red)

So for Partido de la Red, what would be the ideal political system? Would there be political parties or would there just be the people voting directly on issues?

Pia: Partido de la Red’s message is not anti-political. I recognise the value of political parties as intermediary organisations. I think they add value to the political system, However, I believe that we should change the way in which these parties are organised and make decisions.

Today the parties are very hierarchical structures. The majority are undemocratic and completely disconnected from society. They have become merely vehicles to gain power. Democracy has been drained of content, it has lost its substance. Today it is simply a set of rules to determine who is in charge.

Public debate and opinion is not considered to be a central issue within today’s democracy. So, although I think political parties are important, I would love to see them using our Democracia.OS platform or a similar platform in the future to change the way decisions are made because I believe that by including the public, listening to them, learning from their wisdom and responding to their wishes, we will make better decisions.

What is Partido de la Red’s ideology?

Guido: Our party has a very strong ideology – opening up participation.

Santiago: In the past, political ideologies were written with paper and ink and, in traditional politics, the distance between theory and the practice is huge. Partido de la Red is the only political party in the world which develops software and our ideology is constructed around this software. And what is special about this software is that it unites theory and practice in its very essence.

When you design software you theorise, write codes, impose conditions and solutions to these conditions so you are constructing the very system that you are theorising about. So the distance between theory and practice is non-existent.

Digital technology allows you to construct systems, implement them, evaluate and improve them infinitely more quickly than the systems postulated in the 18th century, implemented in the 19th century and consolidated in the 20th century. So, in the near future we will see many transformations.

For me, the vision of having a city legislature whose interface is digital by default could be achieved much sooner than we imagine.

And why should I vote for Partido de la Red? Would I not be wasting my vote when I could be voting for a more mainstream party that more or less reflects my ideology?

Agustín: You should vote for Partido de la Red because no other party is going to let you be a protagonist. With other parties, you will have someone interpreting you thoughts without asking you what they actually are.

But for your party to work, wouldn’t everyone have to participate in the vote?

Guido: Ideally, we want everyone to use Democracia OS because we believe that the more people we have participating the better informed the decisions will be and the more debate there will be among people with different points of view.

We are trying to bring together as many different points of view as possible to show that through communication people can learn from each other and better decisions can be reached.

PdlR’s first hackathon took place in July (photo courtesy of Partido de la Red)
PdlR’s first hackathon took place in July (photo courtesy of Partido de la Red)

In your Democracia OS system, if I don’t know enough about a law being debated, I can delegate my vote to someone who does know. How does this work?

Pia: The idea is that we cannot pretend that everyone knows everything about every law so we looked for a way to solve this. Asking a citizen to vote on everything all the time is also a lot to ask, so it seemed like a good idea for citizens to be able to delegate their votes and, in this way, generate collective intelligence.

We do not want to be a group of individual opinions, we want to generate collective intelligence. And a good way to do this is to allow yourself to say, “I don’t know about this, but I elect this person, who has a good reputation or a lot of knowledge on the subject to vote for me.” It can be someone you know or the director of an organisation.

Agustín: Someone you trust

And could a member of the public also suggest a potential law on your platform?

Guido: Not yet, but, yes, they will be able to. It is something that we are working on

The next elections will take place in 2015, will you do anything different in this campaign?

Pia: Yes, we learned a lot in the previous campaign. Now we have laid the groundwork, we won’t have to spend so much time explaining who we are, instead we will focus more on explaining the projects that we have in mind and how we will carry out everything that we have talked about.

Agustín: In the next campaign we would like to compare our functioning system with that of other parties. If people ask us what we think about laws that have been passed in the legislature we can say look, this is what happened on our Democracia.OS platform. This is how we would have voted.

You are all working very hard on this project. Are you excited about the future?

Pia: We are tired but happy. It has been a long and hard year, especially in personal terms. Each of us has had an internal revolution because we have all come from different jobs and projects and putting together a collective project is not easy. It is a learning process but we are happy with our decision.

(Featured Image: PdlR members present their Trojan horse under the banner ‘Everyone enters the Legislature’ — Photo Credit: Partido de la Red)

Partido de la Red will run in the 2015 City Legislative elections. To find out more about them you can go to their website.

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