Web voting removes hierarchy from Pirate Party decision-making | Science| In-depth reporting on science and technology | DW | 19.08.2010
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Web voting removes hierarchy from Pirate Party decision-making

Keeping in line with its focus on transparency, the Pirate Party has launched an online platform that makes the party's internal decision processes more transparent and democratic.

The leader of the Pirate Party Germany, Jens Seipenbusch, at a party convention in Hamburg

Seipenbusch and the rest of the Pirate Party advocate for government transparency

One of the youngest political parties in Germany, the Pirate Party focuses on the issues of privacy and user rights on the Internet. Not surprisingly, it also relies heavily on this medium for internal communication.

The party has launched a new platform this month called Liquid Feedback. Its aim is to make sure that party members are not overwhelmed by the number of proposals and discussion papers at party conventions. Instead, members can use the application and develop proposals, policy statements and documents ahead of the next meeting.

"Pirates," as the party members call themselves, said they faced a flood of initiatives at meetings because the party does not force discussion papers to be filtered and condensed by leaders, according to Christopher Lauer, one of the party's board members.

"The purpose of Liquid Feedback is to enable each party member to make a proposal without following some kind of hierarchy," said Lauer. "And if most of the members find the idea good, it gets a majority backing within this system. Then the proposal can be lodged at a party convention and implemented or decided on."

An open forum

Each party member can post a motion in Liquid Feedback. Others can then read the proposal and suggest changes or counter-proposals. In the end, a proposal can be approved or rejected by being dragged into the green or red box. Members can also delegate their vote to another member on any given issue if they feel they lack expertise to make an informed decision.

"We are talking about gradually opening things up, not about radical direct democracy," Pirate Party leader Jens Seipenbusch told the dpa news agency. "It's about having a greater say, and that is entirely possible and legitimate today."

A Pirate Party convention in Hamburg

The members hope the online tool will make their conventions more efficient

Pirate Party members believe that their concept of "Liquid Democracy" could set a good example for other parties - and that one day in the future it could allow the public to have a greater influence on politics.

Germany's Pirate Party, which has about 12,000 members and emulated the successful Swedish party of the same name, won 2 percent of the vote in last year's general election, campaigning on a platform of Internet transparency and lack of censorship.

Initial disagreements

Although the Liquid Feedback application is intended to be a model of constructive opinion sharing, it caused some controversy initially. One day before its scheduled launch the party's board suspended the project due to internal squabbling.

A feature that aimed to make all discussions indefinitely accessible was praised as a positive move toward transparency by some and criticized as a violation of data protection rules by others.

"The opposing sides reached a deadlock," Pirate Party board member Wolfgang Dudda told Deutsche Welle. "When you communicate via 140-character text messages or e-mail it's easy for misunderstandings to occur, and then the situation escalates."

The situation escalated to the point that former board member Benjamin Stoecker said the Web platform was partly responsible for his decision to resign from his position. Writing in his blog, he said developers designed the system to reduce political debate to a constant decision between "yes" or "no."

Members, eventually, received the ability to remove their registration details from the system, and proposals were removed from the system after a shorter amount of time.

The developers of the Liquid Feedback application want to avoid such heated debates in the future. Some features may have to be refined - and the comment function will definitely be disabled.

Author: Mathias Boelinger (ew, dpa)
Editor: Sean Sinico

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