Five Star Movement – 1
Italy’s Five Star Movement (Movimento 5 Stelle, in Italian) rose to power on the back of a digital platform targeting disillusioned voters with a fresh new alternative and a vision of a digital model of participative governance. From Wikipedia: “The M5S was founded on 4 October 2009 by Beppe Grillo, a comedian and blogger, and Gianroberto Casaleggio, a web strategist. In the 2013 general election, the M5S was the second-most popular single party, though it was only the third-most popular grouping, behind the centre-left and centre-right coalitions. The M5S subsequently turned down a coalition offer with the centre-left coalition and entered opposition. In the 2018 general election, the M5S became the largest party in the Italian Parliament and entered government led by Giuseppe Conte.”
Wikipedia’s briefing on Five Star Movement elaborated on its use of technology: “The movement bases its principles on direct democracy as an evolution of representative democracy. The idea is that citizens will no longer delegate their power to parties (considered old and corrupted intermediates between the state and themselves) that serve the interests of lobby groups and financial powers. They will succeed only by creating a collective intelligence made possible by the Internet. In order to go in this direction, the M5S chose its Italian and European parliamentary candidates through online voting by registered members of Beppe Grillo’s blog. Through an application called Rousseau reachable on the web, the registered users of M5S discuss, approve or reject legislative proposals.”
Marco Deseriis wrote in a 2017 paper: “Central to [the] shift from politics as a profession to politics as a form of service is the network, which M5S activists routinely refer to as the ultimate source of decisional power. Although the network of M5S members is dispersed throughout the Internet, Rousseau is the hub where the network coalesces in what the party rule book describes as the “assembly of the members”. In this context, the term assembly is to be understood metaphorically for two distinct reasons. First, as with any Internet-based community, the members do not meet in a physical location. Second, if Rousseau could support in theory the formation of a virtual assembly, the platform lacks in practice any tool for real-time or asynchronous communication among the members. Such choice is deliberate. As Members of Parliament Manlio Di Stefano, Nunzia Catalfo, and Danilo Toninelli noted, Rousseau has been designed to function as an “operational tool” rather than an outlet for extended discussions among party members. In this context, operational means that Rousseau allows members to make decisions via majority voting and to develop a relationship with their representatives that is ostensibly unmediated by party structures … This Web-based parliamentarization of the M5S is in line with the process of institutionalization that the M5S has undergone since 2012. Indeed, the extension of parliamentary processes to the Web occurs almost exclusively via a “crowdsourcing” of bills of law that channels the activism of the party base within specific boundaries.”
Writing in Washington Post in 2018 after FSM’s electoral success, Davide Casaleggio, who conceptualised Rousseau, had this to say:
The Five Star Movement, which launched in 2009, has now achieved a landmark success among Western democracies by using the Internet to play a crucial role in the electoral process. The first major digital political organization in the world, it was born and raised online, supported exclusively by donations from ordinary citizens. Its objectives and priorities are defined by citizens, not the old moribund parties, with a mission to end corruption, fight tax evasion, reduce taxes, protect the environment, improve education and accelerate innovation.
…The platform that enabled the success of the Five Star Movement is called Rousseau, named after the 18th century philosopher who argued politics should reflect the general will of the people. And that is exactly what our platform does: it allows citizens to be part of politics. Direct democracy, made possible by the Internet, has given a new centrality to citizens and will ultimately lead to the deconstruction of the current political and social organizations. Representative democracy — politics by proxy — is gradually losing meaning.
Our parliamentarians who stood for election were chosen through online voting on the Rousseau platform — not inside a smoke-filled room like the established parties. Since it is the citizens who finance us though micro-donations, it’s the citizens who choose our program and representatives. In the last online vote to choose our parliamentarians, 8,000 candidates were picked from 40,000 nominees.
Five Star Movement’s Rousseau was thus one of the most successful pioneering efforts to upend the traditional power structure by putting people, rather than the politicians, at the centre.