UVI: A Blockchain Political Platform (Part 7)

Five Star Movement – 2

Cecilia Biancalana wrote in a 2017 paper entitled “Reshaping Political Organisation and Participation: The Use of the Internet in the Five Star Movement. An analysis of Rousseau”: “The FSM represents one of the most advanced experiences regarding the use of the Internet by a political party, especially considered its electoral potential. The most relevant example of the power held by FSM’s members is the candidate selection process: all candidates at the local, regional and national are decided by members, in most cases through online votes … FSM’s elected representatives are considered as spokespersons, that have to follow the “volonté génèrale” of the people. So, the online participation platform is the tool used in order to connect “the people” (the FSM members) and the elected representatives and to make members participate to the internal life of the party, exercising the “steering power, usually detained by few”. As stated by Davide Casaleggio on the occasion of the presentation of the new version of Rousseau: “The representative democracy was probably the best model that we could have until a few years ago. But with the use of the Internet and the set of tools that can be used through the Internet, today participation is probably the best democracy that we can have.””

Caroline Stockman and Vincenzo Scalia analysed the success of FSM and Rousseau in a 2019 paper: “The Five Star movement is positioning itself as the morally superior choice in Italian politics and explicitly aims to be the nation’s sole governing force. Its narrative centres on the materialisation of real democracy, one that is direct and unmediated. One of its key tools for this utopian promise is the Rousseau platform, which allows online voting amongst other direct democracy functionalities. It is named after the well-known Western theorist Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who proposed the general foundation to which the Five Star movement subscribes, centring on the people’s will, against the corruption of the established government. The party’s programme is based on the disaffection for politics by the Italian voters and their resentment over corruption.”

Enzo Floris wrote in a 2020 paper: “The Rousseau platform fulfils various purposes. It runs primary votes, serves as a public forum discussing salient political issues, and organizes referendums on policy proposals… Arguably, the rise of online deliberative platforms is also influenced by a pervasive democratic deficit. The current systems of democratic representation date back to a time when technology did not allow to overcome space and time distances. As new possibilities open, the public’s expectations of further involvement in the public sphere increase. Indeed, the Italian trend fits into a wider global picture of dissatisfaction with representative institutions, the ruling class and politics as a whole…FSM’s Rousseau aims to answer this expanding need for alternative and better systems of representation and for greater democracy within party structures. The platform offers registered users the right to weigh in on important issues, which traditional political organizations reserve to party elites. The significance of the users’ preferences reflects clearly in recent Italian political history, as several key decisions for the party as well as the country were taken within such framework. Remarkably, in 2018 Rosseau determined the birth of a coalition government between FSM and Salvini’s League, after an overwhelming online vote in favor of it.”

Wired UK provides a summary and update in a June 2021 story:

The Five Star Movement (5SM), wanted to upend Italian politics with its revolutionary plans for digital direct democracy. Over the past few months, instead, it almost managed to upend itself, stuck in a kafkaesque drama that left its online voting platform paralysed.

The anti-establishment party, founded in the late 2000s by comedian Beppe Grillo and digital entrepreneur Gianroberto Casaleggio, prided itself on reconciling with politics thousands of disenfranchised citizens, giving them a say on strategic decisions and in the selection of candidates by means of frequent online votes.

But over the past two months its internal processes have been disrupted by a painful divorce with the association that owns Rousseau, the web platform (named after the Genevan political philosopher and theorist of direct democracy) where the 5SM used to hold its ballots and debates. The end of a long stalemate between the party and the platform, this week, provided some respite – but questions remain on whether the party’s online democracy utopia can ever be revived.

Five Star Movement eventually failed in its utopian ambitions. Can India do better? Can we become a pioneer in going beyond just a digital app supporting a new political party to creating a blockchain-based mass platform for political power and governance?

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.