IDP2016 (VII). New Political Parties & Cyber-activism

Notes from the 12th Internet, Law and Politics Congress: Building a European digital space, organized by the Open University of Catalonia, School of Law and Political Science, and held in Barcelona, Spain, on 7-8 July 2016. More notes on this event: idp2016.

Communications on New Political Parties & Cyber-activism
Chairs: Joan Balcells

Structural Conditions for Citizen Deliberation: A Conceptual Scheme for the Assessment of “New” Parties.
Maria Haberer, Doctoral Student, IN3, UOC; Ismael Peña-Lopez, Lecturer at the School of Law and Political Science, UOC.

Is there something like “new politics”? There are certainly recent social movements (15M, Occupy Wall Street) that look like what people like Lebkowsk (1997) called technopolitics. It seems that citizen deliberation is what lies at the core of these movements and the political parties that came after them.

Deliberative democracy is a form of communication to come to consensus-based decision that serve the public good.

Barcelona En Comú (BComú) is analysed to see whether it fits in this definition of new politics or deliberative democracy. What opportunities have the citizens to participate? What are the challenges these spaces are facing?

Four aspects or dimensions:

  • Structure and functionality.
  • Accessibility and transparency.
  • Hybridity and coordination.
  • Outcome and accountability.

What is technopolitics? A conceptual scheme for understanding politics in the digital age.
Can Kurban, Doctoral Student, New School for Social Research, New York; Ismael Peña-Lopez, Lecturer at the School of Law and Political Science, UOC; Maria Haberer, Doctoral Student, IN3, UOC.

What is the relationship between ICTs and democracy? Is it about online vs. offline? About Politics 2.0? The literature is not clear about what we understand by technopolitics:

  • “constitutional integrity” (Lebkowski, 1997)
  • “hybridity” (Hecht, 2001)
  • contingency and multiplicity of actors (Kellner, 2001)
  • contesting conceptions of citizenship, rights, and the polity (Hughes, 2006)
  • the closed vs. the open (Rasmussen, 2007)
  • power and strategy (Toret et al. 2015)

Two main origins of antagonism: the organizing role of communication (and Internet governance) and the value of information (big/pubic data). So, in the latest years we either see ICTs strengthening the status quo, making it more efficient, or as an antagonism of the status quo, empowering citizens with new tools and protocols. And since 2008, the acceleration of the antagonist approach has been quite evident.

Dimensions:

  • Context: we are in contentious politics, in a new digital media environment, living an organizational change.
  • Actors: new and plural actors.
  • Scale: we go from individuals, to organizations, to contentious networks.
  • Directions: contentious politics moving from outside to inside the institutional politics.
  • Synchronization: new spaces for activism, spaces that are not isolated but overlapping layers, and that synchronize through several practices.
  • Purpose: taking back politics in the short term, hacking the political system in the long term.

Are we witnessing a new constitutional process?

Online primaries and intra-party democracy: candidate selection processes in Podemos and the Five Star movement. Bálint Mikola, PhD Candidate, Doctoral School of Political Science, Public Policy and International Relations, Central European University (CEU), Budapest.

To what extent do online primaries empower party members and supporters vis-a-vis the other faces of party organization?

Four dimensions:

  • Who can be selected: from all citizens to only some specific party members.
  • Who selects: from all the electorate to only the party leader.
  • Is the process decentralized: functional and territorial.
  • Voting/appointment systems.

Comparison between Movimento 5 Stelle (Italy) and Podemos (Spain).

Primaries are much more regulated in Podemos, but on the contrary they are more inclusive and open to the outside of the party.

In Podemos, block voting was possible and the result was a certain skewness towards the party leader’s preferences. Indeed, party leadership can control candidate selection through block voting and licensing of candidates. On the other hand, coalition agreements dilute members’ influence.

Europeanization and left-wing populism in southern Europe: the case of Podemos.
Juan Roch González, Phd Candidate in Political Science at Freie Universität Berlin.

What are the discursive formation represented by Podemos around EU issues? What is the role of the EU, in relation to Spanish politics, facilitating or constraining framing opportunities to the Spanish political agents?

The issue of Europe has been crucial for Spanish politics, especially since Spain became part of the EU but most especially in the latest years when European politics have been quite hard on budget issues for the member states, even more for southern states like Greece, Portugal or Spain. This has put the European issue in the very centre of Spanish Politics, affecting budget policies, employment policies and, all in all, leading to a Europeanization of the economic policy area in Spain.

During this period of Europeanization (2010-2012) the Spanish government generated framing opportunities mediated by national (the context of crisis in Spain), the lack of political culture about European issues, etcl.), and agential factors (the new social movements, etc.).

It seems that Podemos has not entirely grasped these opportunities, they are perceived as risky opportunities.

Discussion

Rosa Borge: are participation rates of 15% really low? Mikola: it is true that they are not “that low” in relationship with other parties, but it is also true that, in general, Internet-based parties are usually much more mobilized and one would expect much higher degrees of participation, circa 50%, as it happens in other tasks.

Rosa Borge: is Podemos becoming more hierarchical? Mikola: maybe not hierarchical, but certainly more oligarchical in order to become more electoral.

Q: how does participation changes participants? how does participation changes their own views? Haberer: it is true that participation usually precedes deliberation, but our analysis is more about what makes possible deliberation, and not what happens with it or with the citizen. The crucial thing here is, beyond normative approaches about deliberation, what makes it possible and how is it deployed within the party.

12th Internet, Law and Politics Conference (2016)

Rosa Borge. From protest to political parties: online deliberation in the new parties arising in Spain

Notes from the research seminar From protest to political parties: online deliberation in the new parties arising in Spain by Rosa Borge, organized by the Internet Interdisciplinary Institute of the Open University of Catalonia, and held in Barcelona, Spain, on July 20th, 2015.

From protest to political parties: online deliberation in the new parties arising in Spain
Rosa Borge, Eduardo Santamarina

What are the deliberative practices of the two most important parties (Podemos and Barcelona en Comú) that emerged from the 15M Indignados movement in Spain? What trade-offs entail the process of transformation from social movements into political parties? To what extent participation and deliberation could be realized at the same time?

Podemos and Barcelona en comú were founded in 2014. Three months after its foundation, Podemos won 5 seats at the European Parliament, and less than a year after its foundation Barcelona en Comú won the mayoralty of Barcelona.

Internal organization:

  • Anyone can easily register online and participate in important decisions.
  • Open particpiatory spaces at the base of the party: assemblies, high degree of independence, etc.
  • Dominant position of the General Assembly or Plenary.
  • Specific consultation or referendum for important decisions: electoral programme, agreements with other parties, etc.
  • Participatory preparation of the electoral programme and organizational documents.
  • Channelling for individual proposals (Plaza Podemos).
  • Revocation of elected positions.

Developed a theoretical framework for measuring online deliberation, after Kies (2010) and Friess & Eilders (2014):

  • Institutional or structural dimension: technical and structural design of the online platform in order to build a deliberative space: inclusion, asynchronous communication, content visibility, moderation, identification rules, division of labour, relevant information, horizontal interaction, etc.
  • Communicative dimension: deliberative attitude of participants and how the communication process looks like, mainly with relation to the reaction of participants to each other’s ideas: discourse equality, reciprocity, justification, reflexivity, empathy, sincerity, plurality (inclusion).
  • The outcome dimension: results or impact of the deliberation that could be individual or collective (external impact): tolerance, knowledge, efficacy, compromise, preference shift, consensus, legitimacy, impact on political decisions or public debates.

The research analysed the two most voted debates held in the online platform known as Plaza Podemos and the online process of developing the municipal electoral programme of Barcelona en Comú. The three levels (institutional, communicative, outcome) were examined through the deliberative criteria: analysis of the design of the platform and content analysis of the threads of the debates.

Plaza Podemos run on an installation of Reddit; while Barcelona en Comú used DemocracyOS for the deliberation, plus Agora Voting to prioritise and vote the final proposals.

Main conclusions:

  • Both online processes were designed to be both participatory and deliberative spaces. This “procedural duality” seems to lean towards the voting side, becoming a kind of competitive space.
  • Tensions between openness and closeness (a typical tension of a party).
  • Extensive experimentation of new democratic processes: learning by doing.
  • Inducement of a “participatory literacy” among citizens.
  • These processes and the internal structure will be subjected to future changes.

The processes maybe were not optimal, but very much aiming at improving democratic processes.

Discussion

Q: are there facilitators in the platforms? What is their role? Rosa Borge: yes, there are facilitators, which usually do not appear on the front row, and whose role is mainly technical.

Q: how can you assure that you are fulfilling anyone’s expectations? Rosa Borge: we do not know by sure, but the overall sense of the community is of high satisfaction with both the platforms and the results.

Ivan Serrano: after this research, how do we characterize Podemos or Barcelona en Comú? Are they deliberative parties? Aren’t they? Were do they stand between the extreme of being a traditional party and a fully deliberative one? How can they compare one with each other? Rosa Borge: it is difficult to say after our research, as only a few debates were analysed. But, there is enough evidence to say that these parties look different from other more traditional ones. And yes, there is a tension between pure Habermasian deliberation (which aims at consensus) and the need to participate within the constraints of electoral times. Indeed, the idea of consensus is highly criticised by some authors, and that is why it was not included as an indicator for deliberation: there seems not to be that important that there is an agreement at the end of the process (and just vote instead).

Q: how long does it take to become a regular party? Rosa Borge: Everyone is quite surprised with the political success of both Podemos and Barcelona en Comú. What is true is that an initial lack of structures or political organization allows movements to move faster than traditional parties. After that, there is a tension between being operational and being more participative, and the tension is solved with a pendulum movement approaching each side until a balance is reached.

Marc Esteve: what about the tension between consensus and voting? Rosa Borge: lately, the priority is to have a decision or a position after the process of participation and/or deliberation. Thus why in most platforms everything can be voted on the go. Yes, it adds a sort of competition unnatural in a deliberative process, but it also allows to have “something” at the end of the process, and to make the process a finite one, one that won’t last forever.